Archive for May, 2012

Blockage

May 29, 2012

Ah.

Should I write something funny, wacky, zany?

Maybe something about something in the news in Finland?

Or maybe be an atheist and let the spittle of frustration fly, lathering many a deserving target?

Maybe some not-particularly-inspired fiction?

Or a touch of bad poetry?

Heck, just a Youtube clip of music?

Maybe I’ll just look at the files I keep the bits of dialogue and plot that occur to me in, and see if the latest was anything…

“Wh— wh— what?”

“Combat tentacles.”

“A—”

“There are some for love, too.”

…well, surely there are other possible subjects for a blog post, too. Maybe I shall elucidate my academic work. Yes, I shall wax mightily — wait, no, “wax” is yet another euphemism for autoeroticism — write mightily about what I do all my days that’s not spent gabbing, drinking coffee, organizing my inbox and making little voodoo dolls of the Administration.

Yes! In mathematics—

We now use all these estimates on (3), subtract the right-hand side [NASTY INTEGRAL]-term from both sides (note that this leaves a positive [NASTY INTEGRAL]-term on the left-hand side), and multiply the left-hand side multiplier away. After this, we have [LOTS OF NASTY INEQUALITIES].

We add [SEEMINGLY BARKING INTEGRALS] to the left-hand side and to the first right-hand side term, and then divide with C. As a result, the multiplier of the first right-hand side term is C/(C+1) i.e. less than one, and we can use the usual elimination lemma (e.g. Lemma 6.1 in [HORRIBLE BOOK]) to get [MORE INEQUALITIES.]

— in mathematics, the actual written-down research isn’t all that glamorous, time to time, sad to say.

Ah! I know! Fan fiction! Here goes —

Inside a featureless white room, the Doctor fretted.

“Hey”, he said to no-one in particular, “there’s not even a door. Nothing to see; nothing to do; nothing is happening. This must be a prison in the shape of a writer’s bl—“

Ah, no fan fiction.

Not even a Harry Dresden/Potter crossover. (“‘The Boy Who Lived’? Most boys are. What’s the alternative, ‘Neverliving Fetus’?”)

Maybe some random good ideas.

Doesn’t “cack attack” sound like a good name for a band?

No.

It doesn’t.

Ah, crap, go read accounts of epic shits on Reddit or something. (Really, do. They are very entertaining, as in, “the demon in my colon started to breathe” entertaining. I am reminded of a passage in a Finnish novel by Arto Paasilinna where the son of the chief god of the Old Finnish Gods has become a mortal, shits for the first time, and is rendered near speechless by the niceness of the act because gods never do it.)

The Way of the Doctor

May 18, 2012

For what follows, I can only offer this explanation: I was up late last night, watching Doctor Who.

* * *

So I noticed there’s this American organization called “the Way of the Master”, Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort and people; I think I heard about them over at Pharyngula or someplace like that.

Now, I am not a silly person, so I immediately recognized what this Way was about: innocent human beings being duped into worshipping a rogue megalomaniac Time Lord.

It is grindingly obvious: This “Master” wants to rule your life, wants a tithe, promises vague good things in an “afterlife” nobody has come back from; the pictures of him show an (Anglo) Saxon but he has many faces — look, it was obviously-evil shite like this that led to the cancellation of the original Doctor Who. All that’s missing is a shiny Cyberman conversion center where people go for the “afterlife”; or maybe there are plans to parlay this TV show of theirs into an Archangel network of mind-control satellites?

As if modern people are stupid enough to fall for an obvious ruse such as this!

Also, “Ray (of) Comfort”, the most obviously spontaneously made-up alias ever. What, was “Ladies Washrum” taken? This time the evil genius of Gallifrey isn’t even trying to be subtle.

*

A desert, two thousand years ago. A smug man in a white robe is facing a capering demon in a way too colourful suit.

“So”, the capering demon says, “so, so, so! A holy man? A miracle worker? Great! Absolutely superb — fabulous — all the things you humans come up with! How about a sampler?”

“Do not tempt me, o devil out of time”, the man in white mutters.

“Ah, come on!” the demon yells, gesticulating wildly. “Just a small miracle!” He waves a short metal stick with a light in one end, and a stone flies off the ground and to his hand. “Here, make this into something else. Bread, maybe. I’m hungry.”

“Do not—”

“Ooh! I am hungry! Desperately! Very! Hungry! It would be a good deed! And you are hungry too, aren’t you, mega super duper hungry—”

The man in white frowns. “One does not live by bread alone.”

“Ooh, wine too then! And bananas! Apples! No! Apples are rubbish! Bana—”

“No.”

The dandy demon dances a step backwards. “Well then no, uh, let’s find some high place and, er, you jump down and — wait, no, a really bad idea, best if we don’t. Maybe if we just—” and suddenly he lunges, stabs with the glowstick, and with a great chittering sound the white robe melts away and reveals a goatee’d, grim-faced man in black.

“Aha!” the capering demon yells, “chameleon circuitry in a jacket! Extra-ordinary!”

“Bah”, the man formerly in white, the Master, growls, “do you expect me to grovel before your cleverness, Doctor? Your discovery has only hastened your doom! Even now, time grows short and the fixed point approaches!”

“No!” the demon says, suddenly deadly serious. “No, Master, wait, you really must not do this! The Romans are more advanced than you or I—”

“Do not tempt me!” the Master screams, and vanishes in a puff of teleportation-sublimated water vapor. (Or vapour, rather.)

“—ever expected.” the demon finishes, and sighs. “They will really kill you… not that a Time Lord would not rise again.” He scratches his head and frowns. “Oh, Master, Master, Master, I really don’t know what you really hope to achieve this time. Not like getting killed as this dime-dozen preacher would leave any lasting…”

He trails off, then lifts a cell phone to his ear and says: “Hello? Martha? A quick question. Could you find a history professor and ask if he knows anything about a Jewish prophet called” — he mutters a name, waits, then proclaims he is a completely non-jokey person who is not joking in any way — and then slowly pales.

“I knew the name was familiar!”

A zombie apocalypse in the workplace

May 16, 2012

Zombies.

There’s a metric buttload of books about zombies.

Zombies.

Who else do you call zombies? Yourself and your co-workers, caffeine-fueled drones trapped in a hamster wheel eight hours a day. Waking up feeling nhaaaaargh commuting doing tedious crapola either as the work or as one of the other aspects of the job — maybe your job is fascinating but the reports, the meetings, the boss, nhaaaaargh — and when you get out of it, you crash for the evening, and tomorrow it’s the same day.

This clearly is not the optimal use for a smart person such as yourself. Why, you might have thought, a lot of my day could be done by a zombie, because I for sure feel like a zombie for a lot of it.

Hold that thought.

In an alternate present (because the future is complicated) the problem of America’s overflowing prisons has been solved. Because what you want the prisons to be varies from person to person, but something that combines monstrous deterrent, vocational training, profit and putting people away satisfies most people.

And so, in the Sixties, a Doctor Brown concocted a drug that takes your average prison inmate and reduces him (or her, later) into a shuffling, occasionally moaning cretin with no drive or desires.

Doctor Brown wished to call the results of this process “the Brown people”, but some more sensitive doctors took him aside and explained this would be a bad idea.

Instead someone thought of calling them zombies, and though Doctor Brown thought the idea stupid, sentimental, superstitious and a lot of other adjectives starting with an angry “s”, the suggestion persisted.

Now prisons hold hardly anybody. Instead, if you break the law, you’ll be taken to a facility, injected and otherwise manipulated, and a day later you’ll shuffle to a job somewhere in the nation: docile, fairly tireless and not all that bright. A month, a year or ten years later, you’ll get the reverse injection and, through the miracle of muscle memory (“Mhah!” Doctor Brown mutters, “Muscle memory? It’s more complicated than—“) you have most of the skills you practised in the meanwhile: delivery work, woodworking, spreadsheets, gardening, sweeping, receptionist stuff; all the things a “normie” could do on autopilot, except, you know, the actual piloting stuff: nobody wants to see a zombie operating a forklift.

Of course the dezombified will be entering the workplace in competition to the zombies, but the zombies need supervisors, and an ex-zom is ideal!

The system is admittedly not perfect; the treatment of female zombies especially is a constant source of worry to OWZA, the Organization for the Wellbeing of Zombified Americans. It does not help that certain politicians consider the tales an especially horrifyingly effective form of deterrent. Then in addition to molestation there is the occasional and highly publicized vigilante who decides to find and kill the now defenseless criminal. They just don’t understand killing a zombie is still murder.

Not to say anything of the misguided romantics and revenge-hungry utter maniacs, who kidnap a zombie and try to reverse the process, for pleasure or for pain. Most often that’s aggravated murder, or then one of those “thriller” novels. (To say nothing of trash like “I Was An Innocent Zombie!”; and Doctor Brown would have conniptions if he heard that finale bit about “restored through the power of love”.)

There have been occasional problems in the system, that is true, but nothing that would have threatened its continued existence. Certainly nothing like that vile, sensational, alarmistic, almost pornographic 1968 hack piece movie, widely considered one of the most distasteful calls for capital punishment across the board ever made. If you ask Doctor Brown — you shouldn’t; too much spittle — that man Romero better never commit even a single felony or it’s guaranteed he’ll be scrubbing septic tanks so dirty the smell never wears off.

Capital punishment persists, of course, but the lesser crimes tend towards zombification in almost every case. If a zombie can’t be rented to outside use (capitalism in action!) due to fear of retribution or aid from accomplices, there are still some real prisons left. And with the inmates zombified, there’s no drug dealing, gang violence or escape attempts; just the steady grind of physical work so that the muscles don’t atrophy.

Oh, and somebody needs to sternly order the zombies to the cafeteria now and then, and to the toilet, and the showers; they can do the necessary operations themselves, but they have no initiative. (Well, sit one down next to a pot roast and it might eat on its own eventually; much like a broken clock hits the right hour twice a day…)

Now, the year and the hour is 198X. (Or 201X?)

Congress is yet again in gridlock, this time over an amendment to the 26th Amendment, which made the zombie system (“Intracranial Imprisonment”) possible; Republicans are trying to extend the system to all civil offenses, and Democrats are painting the walls with the spectre of your mom getting zombified and worse because she made a mistake with the tax forms.

The media, well, the media is in an uproar after an MIT professor made some unfortunate and true remarks about persistent police racism and economic injustice, and what the resulting skewed zombie numbers make modern America resemble, with a lot of the zombies being of a darker hue than their, uh, masters. A lot of people are outraged and insulted, but nobody’s in much actual disagreement.

All of this is background noise to the story. Which is not a story of all the zombies suddenly going for blood or brains. Which is not a story of the Brown injections suddenly, catastrophically, stopping to work.

No.

Because once this is a story of zombies in the workplace, the story ought to be of a zombie apocalypse in the workplace, too.

There’s a company that has fallen on hard times. Its owners haven’t suddenly become psychopaths or evil; no, they just look forward and see the company crumpling against the wall of competition in a few years’ time unless they do something radical.

Which is why a meeting is called, and 90% of the workforce is told they’re being let go. Zombies will take their jobs, their livelihoods; their lives, more or less. The government Placement and Training Authority (PTA) can supply the warm bodies; providing housing and a cafeteria for them is much cheaper than hiring real, living, chatty, smoke-break-taking, secretary-ogling, nose-powdering normie people.

The employees are understandably pissed off. As in, the placard-waving, demonstration-organizing, chant-yelling, police-worrying sort of pissed off.

The zombies, ah, the zombies just moan softly and sway in place, waiting for orders: five hundred of them, blank-faced and without drives or desires.

Then, the next morning, the zombies are gone. All five hundred of them.

Our protagonist is one of the company bosses — because really, they are not evil psychopaths despite just having fired 90% of their workforce, they make hard decisions and resent all these psychopath allegations — and our protagonist is the first to realize the zombies didn’t run away, because zombies don’t do that and it would be very bad for the company and also the world if people got the idea they suddenly could do that — no, the zombies were stolen.

Probably by one of the ex-employees. (“You lot, follow me! And shush with the moaning!”)

And it should be easy to find someone hiding, feeding, keeping five hundred zombies, right?

Right?

It’s not like zombies don’t eat, after all.

*

Okay, I am not going to write that novel. Because (a) I am not an American, which would become painfully obvious very soon, if it didn’t already, and (b) I know nothing about actual non-university workplaces, worker-boss relations, and the like.

But if you do, here’s a free idea! Because ideas are cheap.

Mathematicians solve real-life problems

May 15, 2012

Out of toilet paper.

What is toilet paper? A tissue that through repeated contact transfers fluids and solids from the nether area to itself, after which the tissue plus fluids and solids can be disposed of.

The most common substitutes ignore this last part: using the person’s own hand, for example, is a highly suboptimal solution since the hand cannot be disposed of in any easy fashion. This is because the hand is attached to the body.

Likewise, the use of underpants, t-shirts, and overcoats is troublesome because of the disposal problem. Leaving overcoats with fluid and solid remnants at one’s local waste disposal point can result in loss of social prestige.

The optimal solution to running out of toilet paper are small birds. Their own motor effects serve to enhance the transfer of fluids and solids, and once released at a window, they dispose of themselves.

Exercise. (a) Compare the effectiveness of utilizing pet birds vs. wild birds, as regards costs of care vs. immediate availability. (b) How to catch birds when not wearing clothing on the waist-ankles interval. (c) Are specific toilet rooms necessary? Design a portable intra-rectal toilet with pneumatic compression.

Opening doors.

What is a locked door? A rotational system attached to a doorframe at n points, that can be orthogonalized from the frame if at most n-1 of those points are fixed, enabling access through the doorframe.

If, however, all n of those points are fixed (i.e. the key is lost), the usual layman solution is to “bust” the door, that is, to reduce the structural integrity of the door rectangle until (a) one of the points gives, or (b) a sufficient subset of the door rectangle orthogonalizes.

Such brute force methods are not elegant and cannot be recommended. The local order authority may react to them negatively and possibly induce unforeseen fatalities.

Exercise. (a) Formulate the door analogue in an arbitrary dimension. (b) Build a 5-dimensional door. Do not open it for any reason whatsoever. (c) Study the theory of doorknobs, e.g. T. Setting’s Mathematics for the Knobhead. (d) Write a search algorithm for arbitrary keys, then ask the author for a test key.

This problem of opening doors without keys is as of yet unsolved. Those interested in collaboration on the matter should contact Prof. Holzbein, Königstrasse 2a (the porch), Stuttgart.

Small bits

May 13, 2012

I have come up with the best (read, “creepiest”) possible lines to begin a course of mathematics with.

Now I just need to get into teaching and not just TA-ing.

“Mathematics is ageless.”

“I am thirty.”

“Good day, and welcome to COURSE NAME HERE.”

*

Also, “Two ways to destroy bright students that annoy you”, as developed as a part of the educator’s arsenal by me and a postgrad last week.

Way one. When that guy has done a homework question on the blackboard (this happens in university math education), look at it, frowning, and erase one symbol or number, muttering: “No no no, that’s not right.” Then write the exact same symbol or number back, and go on. Repeat every week, and watch enthusiasm fade out of his/her eyes.

Way two. Suppose our problem case, our star a little bit too bright, is called Johnny. Now, in 60% of the cases when someone else goes to the blackboard, evaluate their work by saying “Naah. Pretty good. Johnny would have do better but… well, I suppose this is the best you can do.” The resulting seating feng shui will drive Johnny insane with isolation in a few weeks.

Because while every educator or lecturerperson knows how to insult and injure the dim cases, the bright ones take a bit more work.

*

Am considering getting box set of Downton Abbey, because I hear it is a good show.

Am not in a hurry, because I have certain opinions about the sort of master-servant class society thing that’s probably in the series, and I’m not liking the idea of snapping and shouting “Revolucion! Get the posh pigs against a wall!” at half the cast.

For some reason I don’t have impulses like this when watching Game of Thrones which, oh dear, is set in a much more unenlightened epoch. Probably because while I can imagine a maid with a rifle and a red armband, there’s no obvious way for Westeros to get civilized which doesn’t take at least a few generations.

Unless, when the Wall cracks and the Others pour through, they bring not only ice swords and giant were-spiders, but a strong commitment to democracy and universal suffrage as well. “Death to you, Mother of Dragons, vile perpetratrix of the unjust and monstrous system of hereditary monarchy and unelected buffoonish aristocracy! We the blue-eyed undead Others and our ice zombies are evil only when viewed through the blind lens of unexamined classist-racist-sexist heteronormative prejudice!”

*

So there is a comedian called Louis CK; he is a scatological funny man. He also sells a couple of his stand-up performances online, drm-free; and I, being myself, returned to buy the latest and noticed I had forgotten my damn password. For the recovery of which, there was a button.

And then something unique happened.

The bit of text that usually says something bland like “Your new password has been sent to your email”; that bit read, more or less, “Oh god you are so fucking stupid. Your new password has been sent.”

I boggled, then burst into laughter.

And the new password? Well, let us say a part of it was a very uncomplimentary word.

That is loving attention to detail, I tell you. I usually don’t laugh out loud when buying stand-up.

Life ends at conception

May 12, 2012

So: I have been watching a lot of Mayday and Seconds from Disaster lately.

As a result, I’ve learned that a lot of aircraft accidents could have been prevented by someone stepping up to a maintenance man at a critical moment and saying: “Hey, what about that bit there? Looks a bit off, doesn’t it?”

A very big problem could be prevented by doing a very small thing.

If you don’t take that small step then, then you’ll be dealing with a flaming plane, an exploding engine; and at that point small solutions will not do.

Now let us apply the same to the destruction of Adolf Hitler.

Now, the usual Hitler-prevention chestnut is “Kill this child!”, which has some moral problems. Or, in cinematic adaptations, a full-on “Let’s kill the Fuehrer!” intervention, since when the man has a moustache, the moral problems go away.

But consider the parts that make up a man. His environment, of course: without the First World War, there would have been no Fuehrer. Without his upbringing, also no Fuehrer: see Boys from Brazil. But could you do the same with less?

I present to you a rustic setting in Austria in the summer of 1888: the municipality of Braunau am Inn, and the residence of Mr. Alois Hitler, a rather unsympathetic customs official who is at the moment once again failing to keep it in his pants; though at the moment he is failing along with his second wife, Klara. They have two children… well, Mr. Hitler has two children; the three that were also Klara’s died in infancy and Mr. Hitler is rather too enthusiastically and forcefully attempting the production of one more.

In mid-production, Klara whimpers: “Alois! I think someone’s—”

“Klara!” the man grunts, “I have told you I am to be addressed as Herr — Oberoffizial — Hitler!”

“—there’s someone at the window!”

At which moment the windowpane of the bedroom rattles; Alois withdraws, roaring, and, pantsless, runs outside only to see a giggling boy running away. Alois Hitler curses in best Austrian fashion, cheeks red, thinning hair in disarray, and shakes a meaty fist. A neighbor comes out, alarmed by the noise, sees the pantsless Herr Oberoffizial, and expresses disapproval. Alois flinches, fumes and retreats back inside, much as his erection has retreated already; and so Alois’s sexual desires are killed for that evening.

The next evening, there will be sex, and a semi-randomly selected sperm will meet an egg. Nine months later, 21st of April, 1889, a child will be born. Maybe a boy, maybe a girl: but in all probability a child with a different selection of Alois’s genes from a different sperm. Maybe a better artist; maybe a nicer man, a blonde, blue-eyed Adonis with no self-esteem issues; maybe just a bit less a genocidal fuckhead.

(Then again, go back to Austria in 1888 and kick a dog: maybe the dog changes ten thousand things which lead to the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna burning down: a young Adolf Hitler stands there watching the flames, says a very rude word, and goes back to the sticks to be a customs official just like his father. Very much like his father, in fact, since he’s constantly troubled by peculiarly dressed foreigners and fucking Jews who always seem to lug the sort of luggage and imports that call for an endless Germanic hell of paperwork. Truly, Mr. Hitler will be bald with frustration before he is thirty, and the time travellers will be… entertained.)

Think of all the steamy encounters that have been interrupted by the unlikely appearance of someone curious, or a scary owl, or one of the persons involved undoing the hand brake: if time travel was possible, and if changing time was possible, that might be the easiest way to undo inconvenient persons. For them, life would… end at conception.

Explained for the future: Felines

May 7, 2012

Dear People, Minds, Swedes and Other Parties of the Future, let me elucidate the nature of the 21st century to you. I trust the millennia have been kind to this electronic missive; if not, you would hardly be reading it.

The following video shows two specimens of felis catus, the domesticated cat, a common carnivorous mammal animal companion of the 21st century. As can be observed from the video, a cat had four feet, terminating in “paws” (furry claw-concealing lumps), one tail (not a genital tentacle, except in certain rare cats of Japanese origin), a central body mass (also furry), and a head. (The head can safely be assumed to be analogous to that of a 21st-century human, except with more fur.)

The paper head coverings seen in the video were not customary, nor common. They held no special religious significance, and did not denote “boss cats” or “worker cats”, and were not placed on cats to placate fierce Cat Gods; I mention this because this kind of things may have become unclear during the passage of long years, which overall is the reason I write this missive to you in the future.

No, the head coverings were rather the work of the cats’ owner — that is, a human being held legally liable for the well-being of these feline creatures, much in the fashion of the ancient “Ada and Steve” style of human child-rearing marriage. (Marriage was complicated, and will be explained in a later missive, or if these missive are found out of order, was explained etc. etc.)

In some cases the truth of ownerdom was starker, and darker: some people thought cats mere possessions, that is, things to be owned. I know this seems the very acme of silliness to you; I am amused by the thought, also. The Kitten Revelation of 2045 AD sure showed us who was the master species, huh? If only they had not insisted on the extermination of canines before their departure to the stars we might still have some species to feel superior to.

O, sigh.

The purpose of this video (aside from the historical importance of the diabolical cat mastermind on the left) can be easiest understood in terms of the transition economy of the early 21st century: as traditional gold-type money (see: American dollars, German marks) was being replaced by global memecash (see: Bavarian lolthalers, Brazilian kilocups), this kind of popular videos became a popular money-status substitute. Given the (seeming) impossibility of acquiring large amounts of gold-type money, a common source of status, many turned to (seemingly) easier avenues of acquiring fame and the adulation of masses in the virtual world. One common instrument for this was a blog (a small spiked club); another a podcast (a bigger one, with a sling in it); and still others posted cat videos, the mustard gas analogues of the digital warfare for attention.

As for the final destiny of felis catus, I trust the years since have not erased the terrible memories: the unfortunate side-effects of memecash; the shocking revelation of Felicia Day as a front of hyperintelligent cyborg cats; the eventual election of the cat on the left to the position of the UN Secretary-General.

That last one was not one of humankind’s brightest moments.

I hope this clarifies many things.

yours,
Great Chief Masks-of-Eris
Protector of the Antarctic

Walrus: bits that didn’t make a whole

May 4, 2012

“Ah, walruses. The vampires of the sea.”

“Uh?”

“With those huge teeth. They can latch on to whales, with hundreds of them sucking the whole whale dry. It’s a sight to make landlubbers like you queasy!”

“Er uh.”

*

Her last name wasn’t Sr, it was rather S—r, the dash standing for some ten to fifteen letters of Germanic nature. I didn’t know which were the right ones, much less in which order they should be put.

Neither did anyone else.

Nearly every instance disagreed on the spelling of her name: the university website alone had seven different spellings, and it seemed every exam result paper, secretary-typed and pinned to the departmental noticeboard next to the stairwell, had a different transliteration above her wavy sine-line signature.

There were some six variants that made up some 70% of the instances her name appeared in; none of these occurred in more than 15% of the sample.

As far as any of us knew, Thube Sr, a tiny, grey-haired, wrinkle-faced imp of a woman, didn’t give a damn about this.

*

“That’s not the worst the sea contains, argh me unsalted matey. Have you ever been on a ship romanced by a dim whale?”

“What?”

“Argh, that be a situation where the whole ship be fucked.”

*

The prof was a Lars Larsson; he went by the last name. The final name, some said; or a terminal name, even.

Prof. Larsson was a man liable to inspire terms like this.

He was also the vice head of the department. Vice, as is well known, is in police circles drugs, prostitution and the like. Also pornography and gambling.

Larsson’s exams were gambling and the grades were likely to drag you to drugs, so that was right.

*

“Look, I can guess your next bit is going to be about ‘seamen’, so please don’t go there.”

“Argh, I was about to speak of mermaids, rather. Are mermaids okay?”

“Is this going to be the reverse mermaid bit? Which have a fish for the upper body and—”

“Argh, I never seen that one nowhere. I’ve seen the werewhale of Tasmania, but I’ve never seen that one.”

“The what now of Tasmania?”

“A poor sailor, bit by a whale, who turned to a blue whale every full moon. Good thing no place in Tasmania is too far from the shore, argh, but still. Can you imagine a dark night in Hobart, just one ridge too far from the embrace of waters? Being there, wide, blubbery, a whale in the remains of a trailer, thinking this will be a night of spectacular discomfort even before the blue lights blare? An’ come morning there be a man in the emergency tank, and questions of a whale he stole, for what legend tells of the werewhale but the most obscure kinds of legend. Argh, this be a sad tale, this one, and many a Hobartian could tell it: the tale of the weird night when a whale burst the jail.”

*

Doesn’t the existence of a “regional tsunami warning” imply the existence of a global one?

*

“Every child is an inner product”, read the banner over the enticement stall. Two pale women (with faces like skulls, eyes like marbles) sat inside, each behind a chin-high stack of brochures.

I hesitated for a moment, and the one on the left, with black hair on a ponytail so severe I first thought she wore a cap, noticed me and whispered: “Interested in mathematics, are you?”

Not wanting to be rude, I took a step towards her, and nod-shrugged in vague affirmation.

“Ah, you should be”, the other woman said. Her hair was a white halo, more dandelion that Einstein. From behind her stack of papers, I could see she was wearing a black t-shirt with the name of some band on it; she looked as if a strong breeze could carry her away. (No fear of that; the University Fair for High Schoolers was, as usually, held in a hall hot like Arabia, charming like a Moscow suburb, all concrete and yellowing paper.)

“Why?” I asked; my voice a cracked a bit. If I had been a girl, I would have been envious of how good she looked, despite the cadaver look and the crazy hair and the marble eyes. If I had been inclined that way, I might have been attracted; but despite that, she had a Presence.

White-halo smiled, and black-cap followed suit; apparently I had said the right thing, and that was something they didn’t see often.

“Mathematics is the secret language”, White-halo said, leaning over her papers towards me, “the language the world obeys, the language that controls your life, the flow of your money and hormones, advancement and accidents—”

“—that defines success and failure alike”, Black-cap said, in a breathy whisper, “that in this godless universe is the most divine thing, and the master of mathematics, she is the master of all!”

“All illusions are stripped from those that calculate”, White-halo said, taking a handful of papers off her pile, spreading them like a fan with a turn of her wrist, revealing a lot of pyramids, eyes, pentagrams, “all questions of morality die faced with the logic of numbers and sequences—”

“—so are you now more interested?” Black-cap finished.

I stood there for a moment, transfixed by their fervor and evil; then I turned and fled, and have never thought of mathematics the same since.

*

“—and that was the end of the werewhale. A sad, sad, sad tale that was.”

“I find your story highly improbable, though it would make a good Michael Bay movie.”

“Argh, much obliged. Which do remind me of the sad, sad tale’s sequel, the revenge of the fallen werewhale from the dark side of the moon! I—”

“What now?”

“Do not move, boy, for behind you on the wall—”

“Ah?”

“—the cursed, weak, unwise seaward wall, left unprotected and free for toothed things to come through, snatching sailors and devouring the first that moves—”

“Ah?”

“—that be the gaping maw of a wallrus!

Horses and pyramids

May 1, 2012

Me, dad, sauna, today.

We having a break, drinks in hand. Beer for him, Coke for me — I was too uptight to get into alcohol when young, and now it’s too late, my brain is wired to derive the equivalent social pleasures from the black poison — and us standing outside, nude, watching the winter’s last snowdrifts melt into soggy mud. Us, watching a decorative stretch of stone wall, hedging in a few birches and what would be a kind of a small garden-and-bench type thing if not for the snowdrifts; the whole being last summer’s project of agrarian self-amusement.

Dad, saying the stone wall survived the winter, and total submergement in snow, remarkably totally intact. Then again, that’s the way of stone things, is it not, like with centurial stone walls across the fields of Merrie Olde Englandie, etc. etc.

Me, commenting, saying this summer we might try something more ancient and durable. A pyramid, maybe, if there was a free spot somewhere. Which is not difficult; mom and dad live in a big house with a big yard, sloping and tree-avenueing itself into semi-used fields, berry bushes, saunas and eventually big fir forests in most directions.

Dad, saying a Stonehenge would do for a project as well. Except that finding and hauling the stones might be a bit of a bother.

Me, pointing at the steep valley across the road, and the long ridge beyond. There’s stone, visible in a few places even, no more than a hundred meters up the steep, tangly-forested, rocky ridgeside. And dad has a tractor that is mostly younger than he is, so there’s a project for us!

Dad, commenting the neigh-bor across the road’s horses might laugh at us, us hauling tons-heavy rocks behind a near-antique tractor up their field of containment. Because there’s some saying about even the horses laughing, is there not? But then again, the secondary means of hauling shouldn’t too much ridicule the primary, should they?

Me, saying pyramids are better than a Stonehenge; plus, you can use much smaller stones. And, as for the place, how about that there sandy ex-tennis field — er, we are not wealthy, it’s just that Finland has lots of cheap space, and apparently high school teaching isn’t enough physical exercise for dad — that small field-like space which was then after a paddock for the across-road-neighbor’s daughter’s pet horses before that big one across the road. That’s solid sand you could build a pyramid on.

Dad, saying you might as well build the pyramid hollow, leave space for the horses inside.

Me, suggesting that as pyramids sharpen razors placed under them — according to gullible sources, and as applied to much smaller pyramids — then what would happen to the horses?

Dad, saying there would be superintelligent horses obviously. Or at least as intelligent as your average human beings.

Me, suggesting future histories would glumly tell it was the stupid folly of two Finns that brought on the Horse Uprising and the Fall of Man.

Dad, envisioning horses in the parliament — municipalities with horse majorities — an equine president! Unless they’d prefer royalty. Whereupon a pun intrudes; “kruunattu” being Finnish for “being crowned, enthroned, that sort of thing”, and “ruunattu” being “being with your male parts removed, as horses get because their owners think this makes the horse happier; nobody ever asks the horse as far as I know and they, being fully informed, might not think this a sensible option at all”.

This has been offered as an example of what sauna makes Finnish people say. Or as an example that, whatever this imagination of mine is, I know where I got it.