Archive for the ‘quote’ Category

A Sagan quote and stray thoughts

November 11, 2012

What an astonishing thing a book is.

It’s a flat object made from a tree, with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles.

But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person. Maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.

Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions. Binding together people who never knew each other. Citizens of distant epochs.

Books break the shackles of time.

A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

Carl Sagan (well duh), Cosmos,
ep 11, “The Persistence of Memory”

Stray observations:

  • Because of the Symphony of Science auto-tune videos, each episode of Cosmos has a few spots where you sit up and say, “Hang on a minute, this sounds really familiar!”
  • Because the quote is from a TV show, I had to come up with a paragraph division myself. (There’s a Cosmos book; I don’t have it.) I wonder (and don’t Google, because I’m lazy) if anyone has tried giving unparagraphed text to author-types and seen if they break it into paragraphs the same way.
  • Or is that even the right question? Author-types don’t take a stream of text and break it into paragraphs; they generate the stream and break it while it’s still hot. I wonder if revision As Done By Professionals includes much paragraph-fixing.
  • Also, what if you gave unparagraphed text to an author and said, “Paragraph this so it is quick-paced. Then so it’s soporific, or suggesting the narrator is mad.” Which are the easy ones: short paragraphs, veeeeery long paragraphs and a new paragraph every 254 characters.
  • Oh, it was Carl’s birthday on the ninth. Which probably was mentioned by someone while I was falling through the Net, which led me (after a few other failed diversions) to pulling up an episode of Cosmos and cheering up instantly. And then, into writing this post. I’m not one to plan my diversions; even today, I thought I’d spend the whole day writing, but have instead done cycling, computer housekeeping, and a few hours tinkering with a decorative Buddha, turning it into an Erisian saint idol of some description. (A long story: It was Prague, this summer, the last day of the active portion of my summer vacation, and I was in one of those hundreds of tiny convenience stores that Prague is full of (candy and booze!), irritated because it was likely to rain soon and my companions were not perfect slave-manikins of my will and desires; and, having still too much local money left, I grabbed the cheap Buddha statue, the size of two fists, smirked back at the Asian lady manning the till as I paid, and thought to myself, “Ha! I can waste time making impulsive buys increasing the likelihood of being stranded in the rain unumbrella’ed, too!” And then, later, I thought to myself, what do I need a Buddha for? It’s not a Czech souvenir, really. Czech Republic, the famous birthplace of Siddharta… uh, and Made In China. And thus I’ve been buying beads, rasps, a few bottles of paint; as (speaking in pseudo-theological gobbledygook) the Buddha is not deployed into Buddhistic use it is an agnostic pre-worship object, and surely it is okay that I appropriate it into statue-body modification for a different faith. Possibly for St. Confusius, he of unclear revelations. Because this Buddha is a fat man of wealth and good fortune (with a legend of “COMING WITH CASH” along the base), it’s a nice painting project for an inept buffoon like me: plenty of bulging smooth surfaces. Anyway, it’s that long a story.)
  • Also, since I’m writing NaNoWriMo (updates on that to follow), I’m prone to word diarrhea (see the previous point).

Quote for today 28

March 1, 2010

“Excuse me?” Judge Sn said. “You show up in my courtroom with a petition to turn turn a citizen of a member of the Common Confederation into a meat animal, and you warn me about overreaching? Good fucking gravy. You’re in contempt, counselor. You can pay your thousand CC credits on the way out the door. Now shut the hell up. You’re the dipshit who brought the suit and demanded it get ruled on today, so now you’re going to get a ruling.”

(John Scalzi, the Android’s Dream)

There are many reasons to like John Scalzi’s writing, including beginning the book quoted above with a chapter-long tasteful fart joke, managing to write in a sheep one’d like to have as a girlfriend, coming up with the Church of the Evolved Lamb, and having a minor character of indeterminate gender that apparently every reader genders every which way while never noticing a thing. (As for my ineffably correct opinion, why of course Sam Berlant is a man.)

Then there’s how he writes in this Judge Bufan Nigun Sn, for whose non-traditionally-judgesome behavior no explanation is given, and who doesn’t seem to be doing anything the story’s characters think is unusual. No explanations, no overt notice anything unusual is afoot — a perfect joke. (Unless the US legal system is very much different from what I think it is. Good fucking gravy.)

Quote for today 27

January 11, 2010

Numbers exist only in our minds. There is no physical entity that is number 1. If there were, 1 would be in a place of honor in some great museum of science, and past it would file a steady stream of mathematicians gazing at 1 in wonder and awe.

(From Linear Algebra by Fraleigh and Beauregard; or so I’ve heard.)

Meanwhile, the unearthing of a second, slightly different copy of the physical entity “Infinity” would have caused the Lovecraftian mode of speech to erupt among late-nineteenth-century mathematicians. “What object is this? What is this abomination the fool Cantor hath exhumed? What unclean crypt of forgotten blasphemies did he trawl to bring forth this dual madness of set-theoretical division and putrescent modern insanity? If God is Infinity, what Satan is this discovery of his? Can such things be?

Not to say anything of the squamous and rugose thing “the Square Root of Two” that the ancient Egyptians built the Pyramid of Giza to hide, for they could not stand the sight of it. And what of how it, once rediscovered from the embalmed sleep of centuries, destroyed the Ancient Pythagorean Order of Mathematical Illuminati and drove all of West to a Dark Age of madness and denial? You can see it in the British Museum, cold, well-brushed and dripping with its intrinsic oils, but note the pick-marks of furious and futile denial on its sandstone base, dear visitor. They tell of a history of strife and loathing you can barely conceive.

Or contemplate the void within the Thing “Zero”, too terrible to be a god to the ancients. It was found looming naked, white and obscene on the slope of an almost-dormant volcano on the Caucasus, near the Gates of Alexander, without creator or cause; and it was visited with uncomprehending reverence and unwholesome rites of appeasement by the outlier-princes of Sumer, Akkad, Persia and Rome — but despite all its power and antiquity, it was destroyed by fire by miserable religious zealots of a later, less advanced age, and now only shards of it remain.

To say nothing of the wars that have been fought over the possession of “Pi”; the coiling endless serpent sphere older than the Ark of Covenant, and more coveted. Volumes have been filled with vague legends of its wanderings from the Papal treasuries of the Late Middle Ages to the hands of Napoleon’s soldiers, and with whispers of its theft from the ruins of the summer court of the Russian Tsars by a secret mathematical unit of the Ahnenerbe-SS, hell-bent on unleashing —

Umm, yeah. A poetic image too far.

Quote for today XXVI

November 29, 2009

Someone who had begun to read geometry with Euclid, when he had learnt the first theorem asked Euclid, “But what advantage shall I get by learning these things?” Euclid called his slave and said, “Give him threepence, since he must needs make profit out of what he learns.”

Stobaeus, Extracts ii. 31. 114, ed. Wachsmuth ii. 228. 25-29

To comment on Euclid (I gather commentaries were popular once upon time, so why not again?): not that there’s anything wrong with profit, especially if that profit means helping starving tots rather than just stuffing your own pockets (not that that’s intrinsically wrong either), but there are other equally valid and even better reasons to learn: and the chief of those, in this pompous and insignificant commentor’s view, is the reason that the very act of discovery and understanding is intensely pleasurable, and can be quite as intense, addictive and extreme as any physical or social thrill.

Also, you don’t need to wash your hands afterwards, unlike with certain types of sex and social encounters.

Quote for today 25

November 19, 2009

Yes, some of my initial plans have changed along the way. If they hadn’t, I would just be connecting the dots, and that would drive me mad. Some writers are architects and some are gardeners, and I am in the second camp. The tale takes on a life of its own in the writing.

— George R. R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire (interview)

Meanwhile, and concerning an immensely inferior writer, my NaNoWriMo novel is at 42 030/50 000 words after 19/30 days of writing, and while for the first 10 000 words I was an architect, rapidly after that my characters started doing unexpected things, and I slipped into gardening, then trying to whack the tentacle-shoots and corpse-flowers into some kind of an order when they gained a twisted half-life of their own — oh, and have I mentioned that reading a lot of and about Lovecraft while writing this has had an effect on it?

Well, the changes escalated: my original backstory idea became something the story danced around and then stomped on, and it became just a (so far) quite unimportant detail of the whole. Then a tertiary character introduced on a whim to mouth a few lines of exposition suddenly revealed herself as the chief antagonist, conspirator and plot-mover of the thing. Then a secondary character whose purpose was mostly to be “Obnoxious Neighbor #1” went and did a Suicide by Protagonist; and my protagonist spent uncomfortable (to himself, to writer, to any reader, too) lengths wondering whether he’s a) caught in some really sick shit, b) going insane, or c) involved in a Candid Camera show with a Licence to Kill. (Hint: it’s the first one. It would be cheap to write 50 000 words of something and then say it was all a moon dream. But the c-alternative — well, maybe I should some day try to cook something like Truman Show meets Running Man meets… hapless grad students in a world of horror!)

Some things fall into place quite nicely if you just avoid resolving them until there’s only one choice left; for an example…

Oh, shoot. I just had an epiphany.

Writing is really nice when it clicks; the prose you’re going through is not quite what you find in a published book, but you’re the first one to see it, and that’s veddy nice. (It’s a Choose Your Own Story for people with too much free time; that’s what amateur novelling is.)

Namely I was just going to say that “if you just avoid resolving the fate of a certain character that disappeared a few weeks before the point the telling of the story began, you will find she’s the only one that can be present and active in a certain looming situation ahead”, and I was going to say after that that “Worrisomely, in my troublemaking not-quite-Satanist cabal of evil mathematics professors — and isn’t that a great plot device? — I have one that may or may not be a part of it, and while my protagonist doesn’t know, I don’t know yet, either”.

Then it clicked that the maybe-sinister-professor was a much better fit for the spot and persona of the conflict-presenter. Now and supposing I write it that way all fits, all fits, except that I still have that missing character. (Well, she will no doubt turn up, or be dug up, or claw her way up, before the end.)

This is probably not the best way to write — but as it is all (primarily) for my own masturbatory pleasure, it works nicely.

And this has been your update on das Unaussprechliche Finnische Buch for today.

Quote for today 24

November 6, 2009

I’m only doing it to lull you all into a false sense of security. One minute you put your guard down in the presence of all the furry warm cuteness, then wham! Out comes the chitin and slime and the tentacles and the cold staring eyes oh god oh god the eyes the implacable glare. Then where will your puppies and kittens be, hey?

(PZ Myers, biologist)

And this is why I stay away from the biology building.

Well, this and the rumor that they’re assembling a collection of stuffed academic creatures, and they’re short a graduate student of mathematics.

Quote for today 23

October 5, 2009

The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell, together, as quickly as possible.

(Mark Twain)

Truest words ever spoken. Especially for TV pieces I’ve taken to calling “meteorite fiction”.

Means that after the first ten, twenty minutes you begin to hope that there would be a streak of light across the sky, catching everyone unawares; a meteor strike that would incinerate every single one of the characters and the whole miserable little backstabbing world they live in and that irritating cutesy dog too, and leave nothing except a giant smoking crater filled with burning lava… because that’s the only ending that would be happy for me.

Also, I’m beginning to think that there are very few wisdoms that you can’t trace to either Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce. Maybe I should collect the wisest sayings of both, and work them into a Gospel According to Mark and Ambrose. (14:11, “And yea he Ambrose did walk into the land of Mexico, the land that was in war, with chaos and mayhem troubled, and he did walk in, and he did not walk out. Where he died, how he died, no-one knows; but this one last piece of wisdom suffices to guess and tell all: stercus accidit. Amen.”)

Quote for today XXII

October 1, 2009

You can look for meaning in the Mona Lisa, or a sonnet, or in a child’s smile. You can argue over the meaning with someone else, and you can both disagree and yet both be right. When something is created with artistic intent — or just simply created by the human with or without that intent — it’s open to interpretation.

But the Universe itself as a physical object isn’t like that. You can look for meaning if you’d like, but the Universe is a semi-random collection of energy and matter, and based on all the evidence I have seen was not created with intent. A nebula is beautiful in form and color, but is simply a collection of particles, photons, fields, and motions. It has no meaning outside of your personal interpretation of it. But whether you think it has emotions and is alive or not, it will still do what it does: make stars. Nebulae have been doing this for billions of years before us, and will continue to do so long after we are gone.

You might even ascribe purpose to a nebula: its job is to create stars. But that’s what’s called the Pathetic Fallacy: ascribing human characteristics to inanimate objects. The nebula doesn’t want to do anything. It just does things according to the laws of physics.

(Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy, in “I object!“)

In other words, the question is “What’s the meaning of life?” — and the answer is “Mu.”

Not the cow sound.A cow, no more

Rather the Eastern utterance that I take to mean, “You’re asking a variant of ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet?’ again, aren’t you? Well, genital wishes to you, I ain’t answering a question that’s not well-formulated. My life means what I choose it to mean, and there’s nothing mystical in it, or nothing more I can get or need — cowsound goodbye!”

(“I have nothing against cows. In fact, some of my best friends are cows. Okay, not really. I actually eat pieces of dead cows. Regularly. Daily. And I like that. Yes, I like swallowing chewed-up nuggets of oily, pan-crisped cowflesh — and I don’t think it’s safe to leave me alone in the same room with your gerbil either. God, I’m so pathetic.”)

(This, by the way, happens when the quote is so strong you can’t think of much anything to add to it.)

Quote for today XXI

August 15, 2009

Cover of Lagrange's Mécanique analytiqueThe reader will find no figures in this work. The methods which I set forth do not require either constructions or geometrical or mechanical reasonings: but only algebraic operations, subject to a regular and uniform rule of procedure.

(Joseph Lagrange (1736–1813), from the preface to Mécanique analytique, his book on analytical mechanics.)

The same no-pictures practice has been widely followed in physics and especially in mathematics ever since. Thinking back, I had no figures in either my M.Sc. thesis or my licentiate thesis, though I was tempted to add my advisor’s picture to the latter in the dim hope of brownie points, and the former was made a bit too “popular” by the addition of a fiftieth page that contained actual numerical examples. (Oh dear oh horror of horrors oh dear.)

After all, if we laid bare the essential simplicity of mathematics, who would pay us to do it?

Er, sorry, I was not supposed to say that. In fact I may get contour integrated for saying that. Oh dear.

Quote for today XX

August 12, 2009

Plus, I found that the corporate culture made me itch: you can put the hippie in a suit, but you can’t put the suit mind-set into a hippy. Not that I’m a hippy, exactly — more like a somewhat oblate goth — but the point stands.

(Charles Stross)

A snippet from Charles Stross’s “non-tech autobiography”, which was a fascinating read at 25 000 words.

Even more so since I just couldn’t stomach the idea of reading it from the screen, and so grabbed the HTML from his blog, ran it through Mobipocket Creator (and was shocked when nothing went KERPLAASH!), rammed the .prc into my Bookeen Cybook Gen3, and read it there as if it had been printed down. Total time ten minutes of happy tinkering and a few hours of happier reading.

Strange how I can feel nostalgic about a time I never really knew and that passed by when I was only a foolish child and a teen. (I was born in 1982, the same year as the first computer virus.) I wonder if the eighties-nineties computer circles are distant enough for people to start writing historical novels set then anytime soon?

And now I’m off to order a copy of Wireless. It’s worth the price for A Colder War alone: a mind that can wrestle Cthulhu into a Cold War setting is demented enough for my tastes.

(Also, I guess he means the geometrical and not the theological definition of “oblate”.)