Archive for the ‘tangent’ Category

Poland: gorning, books, transport, doors

September 16, 2014

It is polite, and useful, to know a few phrases of the local language, even if you don’t speak any more of it. My Polish right now consists of “Hello!”, “Thank you (very much)!”, “Goodbye!”, and a few random words, most of which I don’t know how to pronounce.

The Polish for “Sorry!” is przepraszam; I don’t know how to say that.

The problem is, when you start an interaction with a cheerful Dzien dobry!, you then quickly have to employ an “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Polish!” — because hey, if someone says hello to you in Poland in Polish, it’s a good guess that they speak Polish. And I’m not sure how to say the thing well enough to be understood, but clunkily enough to not be mistaken for a native with a head cold.

Or, well, you can easily imagine your native hellos and goodbyes, and how they could be said in tones that would be very inappropriate. Leering. Sneering. Snooty sarcasm. The like. How do you avoid these, when the totality of the interaction is hello and goodbye while sharing an elevator?

Also, you do find yourself gorning a bit for effect. Say, once you’ve acquired the sausage, looking aside for a moment, as if trying to remember something, and then coming out with the thank-you-very-much, saying it perhaps not quite as well as you could, while smiling hesitantly. And oh, do the meatmaid’s eyes light up!

…I have no idea what to call the sausage and cheese desk’s attendant and sausage-scale-operator. “Meatmaid” is probably not it.


There are more bookshops in Poland than in Finland, I think. In absolute numbers, of course; but also relatively.

Most of the books they sell are in Polish — some don’t have anything at all in English! Shock! Grief! — but the Polish titles are interesting, too. There seem to be a lot of Polish fantasy writers; I can’t say anything about their quality, but their covers do kick ass with +2 Boots of Posterior Punishment.

I even saw a translation of S. T. Joshi’s Lovecraft: A Life in one shop, and only got away by telling myself that that would not be a good primer for learning the language — and then closing my eyes and running in the direction of the door.

I keep being kicked in the head by Poland being a market of 30 million, instead of Finland’s 5 million; I think maybe I’ve never really realized how limited the number of titles translated into Finnish is.

But of books in English: I’ve found two horrible sinks of money already.

One is the American Bookstore in the Arkadia shopping center; I think they’re closing that branch in November, so that partly explains their crazy prices. They offer new paperbacks for 5 and 10 zl — like for a literal buck or two! And their selections are made by someone with good taste, that, that is, a taste much like mine. (Except that they have a combined shelf for history and, uh, politically-motivated current events narratives, and the second really leans to the right.) (Their website is kind of unhelpful on their locations; and on Google Maps there’s a ghost of a store on Novy Swiat that I don’t think exists anymore. I hope the shop gets back on its feet and keeps a location somewhere in Warsaw; they have a great catalogue and, not surprisingly, a staff that speaks very good English.)

The other place is Ksiegarnia MDM (at Koszykowa 53, I think), and is more your standard current-titles bookstore, distinguished by its great and varied amount of books in English. (I think “ksiegarnia” means “kirjakauppa” means “bokhandel” means “Buchhandlung” means “honnya” means bookshop; there are words you just have to know.)

Haven’t had time to find any used books shops yet. Then again, when you can buy, e.g., a brand new pocket Polish-English-Polish dictionary for 4.99 zl, and 4 zlotys are about one euro or a dollar, there’s no pressing need!

As for Polish authors — eh, since I don’t read Polish, I prepared for this transition by buying a Stanislaw Lem and an Andrej Sapkowski. The former is a classicist of satirical science fiction; the latter is 90s fantasy about swords and dragons and intersections of those; not quite as bleak as Martin, but sort of R.E. Howard-ish.

Then I’ve of course bought the two-volume God’s Playground, a History of Poland, written by Norman Davies, because everyone seems to agree that that’s the best history of Poland there is, and that includes some Polish schools. (And many years ago, when I was abroad for my first mathematical conference, the conference happened to be in Poland, and a recommendation for this book is the one thing I remember of the guide’s speech during our afternoon excursion: “if you want to know more, read this”.)

I haven’t started that history book yet; I somehow left Ksiegarnia MDM with a copy of Tuf Voyaging by this Martin or somebody, and I’ve been reading that. Great stuff.


There are nine letters in Polish that are not found in your general English alphabet. One of them looks like a struck-through L.

It’s pronounced like W because fuck you foreigners, that’s why.


There’s a buttload of buses and trams going in all directions in Warsaw, and a north-south line of metro and a second west-east line that’s apparently going to be ready any day now.

These all use the same ticket, available in a scary variety of durations; and if you have a photo of yourself you can fill this form online, and a day later pick up an official, free Warsaw City Card.

That card doesn’t do anything, but it can be loaded with, say, a 90-day ticket, and then you just swipe it to get into the metro, and smile smugly while keeping it in your pocket to get on the buses and trams.

There are inspectors; in three weeks of quite casual tram-ing and bussery and metrofaring, I’ve had my ticket checked twice. (Or if those were not inspectors, then I haven’t realized how they scammed me yet.)

There’s a website (also an Android app) called Jakdojade, which is excellent for finding out how to get from A to B when the clock shows C. You just plug in the street addresses or place names, and boom! it calculates several transport combinations for you, tells you which stops to get in and out on, and how many stops are between those and what they’re called, and shows a map.

If you had the time (we mathematicians thought over coffee), you could easily get hold of the coordinates of all bus and tram stops and metro stations, and then divide Warsaw into pieces by the closest transport entrypoint. (That must be a part of what Jakdojade does, I think.) I think the pieces, at least in downtown, would be quite small.

There’s some kind of a measure of urban ease of travel lurking there, but I’m not applied enough to find it. Maybe if you took, say, ten thousand randomly distributed point-pairs in Zone 1, and the same number of random hours of the day, and asked Jakdojade how long it would take to get from one to the other… you would have a denial of service attack.

Or you could find the place in Warsaw from which it is, on average, the quickest to get to anywhere else in Warsaw. (I’m supposing that’s the Centrum metro station.) You could, uh, create a deformed map that showed not physical distance but travel distance; these are common with metro maps, but you could do it for the aboveground city, too!

And I’m saying “you” because I’m too lazy.


So this new mathematical place has a doorman. Who is most of the time a doorwoman, so maybe I should say: a doorperson.


No, that sounds like a creature from some dodgy expansion of Dungeons and Dragons.

“A doorperson has the appearance of a normal no-good blackguard, but any melee attack on it causes the attacker to hit whatever target is on the other side of the doorperson. If that space is empty, the attacker stumbles through and ends in that space him- or herself. When a doorperson is slain, it drops a key. They key is worth 50 gp and will open locked doors.”

What I am saying is, if I was a doorguy, I would last in that job about three days before I started a betting pool with the other doorcharacters over who comes to work before whom.

“Well, professor A is very regular, and quite early. Assistant B is all over the place. His average arrival is later than A’s, so he’s kind of a risky bet… but he has a deadline this week so I’m willing to gamble he’s going to be in early.”

Then after a week there would be a scandal; shaky cellphone video of a doorkeeper slipping a graduate student a twenty and saying “Come to work early, tomorrow. Ask no questions. This may be a new incentive thing, or the professors might be monitoring you. Or this can be just for a doorman bet, you know, ha ha ha.”

I’m in Poland now

September 16, 2014

I’m in Poland now; have been here since late August. While in Finland, I was kind of mum about what university I was in, exactly; this was mostly just paranoia.

Now, since this city has several universities in which mathematics is done, and I think several other institutions of the same sort, not all of them lodges of the Society of Unaussprechliche Geheimnis Eulers, I think I’m willing to say I’m in Warsaw.

Because, uh, if I didn’t say that, blogging about my daily life here would be kind of difficult IGNORE THE HUGE LANDMARK AT THE BACK OF THIS PHOTO.

(What I’m thinking of when I say “huge landmark” is the Palace of Culture and Science, which is both huge, a landmark, and a huge landmark. Seriously, when you see it over the trees from the park next to it, you think “Oh, that’s just some clock tower”, and then you wonder how that clocktower starts twenty stories up.)

Warsaw is so far a nice place and the Polish people are nice and friendly. If they have been anything else, then I have not noticed because I don’t speak Polish. I’m not yet sure if I’m going to change this; I obviously know the polite nothings, dzien dobry and all that.

I’ll be here for a year at least. More if I feel like it and can find funding, or it they start finding the bodies of those hitchhikers back in Finland.


I’ve been repeatedly advised that the tap water is not good for drinking. Locals boil it; I’m not quite that casual yet, and buy these huge 5-liter canisters of ordinary water from the closest shop. And when you lug 5-liter canisters around for a few weeks, you will find the closest shop. It’s a stone’s throw from the front door of my apartment building — heck, it would be a stone’s drop away if I lived in a different corner. (But dropping stones would not be polite. Not even if there were banknotes tied to them; what would they do, try to lob the canister up at me?)

Now. Since Polish tapwater is dubious, they have a huge market for bottled water. Or, at least, a huge market compared to that of Finland, where undrinkable tap water is a national news headline. (Not kidding; a while ago there was a problem with the pipes of a town, and it was in the evening news for as long as it lasted — “are for the third day advised to boil the water before using”, said in tones of incredulity and concern.)

This means Poland has available the greatest thing ever: water with flavor.

Not regular normal water (woda) which is boring and even when bottle-pure tastes kind of like shit because I’m used to tastes; and not carbonated (gazowana) water, which tastes like boiling shit. Just normal water, with a hint of apple, or peach, or some berry added to it.

That’s seriously the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted, at least partly because of the psychological factors. It is presumably healthy, or at least health-neutral, and also tastes good — what is this wizardry?

However: there are bottles side-by-side on the shelves which are identical except for one word in tiny font somewhere on the label. Some say “gazowana“. Others say “niegazowana“. In Polish, “nie” means “no”, and “gazowana” means “the boiling anal fluids of Lucifer Satan”.

I’ve been burned several times.

Once, I bought a sixpack of two-liter bottles of some football-branded water, lugged them home, got out the cooking pot, opened the first bottle—

Fizz! Bubble!

That day I also learned that you can cook pasta with carbonated water. It looks really disturbing, but the end result is edible.


Shopping is not really that difficult, because it’s not that different. You don’t read the packaging all that much anyway, do you? Just don’t be fussy, and don’t buy the flour with the pictures of clean clothes on it.

(Though there are times I have been very happy for insisting on a Polish mobile plan with Internet access. Google Translate is, after the flavored water, the best thing I know of right now.)

(Though I’ve heard the smoothest way to get over language problems is to get a local girlfriend or boyfriend. This is great, but I haven’t found that shelf yet.)


I’ve been stuffing myself with fat Polish sausage for—

And we have entered the zone of the double entendre.

No really, the butcher’s desks at the local shops are nicely varied. My mouth’s made of cardboard and sandpaper so I can’t say anything smart about the quality or the variety, but it’s nice to go to the desk, drool at the dozens of choices, point, and say “Four!”

Better still, when the price then is four zlotys or something — one euro, or a little over a dollar. I’ve been joking for weeks now that in Finland and in Polish, the prices are the same — but in Finland they’re euros and in Poland zlotys!

In case that “joke” needs more explanation, it suggests everything is four times cheaper in Poland. This is not entirely untrue.

For example: A 1 l bottle of Coca-Cola costs 3.83 zl; I don’t remember the Finnish price, because you do not put a price on the black water of life, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t around 4 euros.

Oh, and bottles? Plastic bottles, formerly of lemonade and water, piling up in profusions? There’s no bottle return system; they all go in the trash. This is causing problems because I have by now a lifetime habit of collecting empty bottles in the same place, in the hopes of getting a small amount of money by clunking them then into the returns machine, found at the doorside of every grocery store everywhere.

So now I have this forest of bottles, that I occasionally and sullenly glance at, and then harvest a few to fill the trash bag, feeling as if I’m doing something wrong.

Maybe if I found a big shipping container and a Baltic cargo ship… do you suppose the Finnish returns machines would accept these bottles — is there a special barcode or something?


More to come, soon.

The non-amazing Spider-Man

May 2, 2014

Went and saw the Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Did not like it.

It was a stupid action movie; this alone isn’t enough to make me dislike it.

No, its problem was with the main character, Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man himself.

In my distant childhood, in the Eighties and Nineties, I read the comic books. I know who Peter Parker is, or who he ideally, in my imperfect and partial recall, should be.

He’s not this arrogant, mopey jock.

He’s an awkward nerd, a proto-scientist, a bespectacled, bullied loner. Just getting superpowers doesn’t change who he has been all his life so far.

This is the greatest insult this awful movie contained: it said that Peter Parker is this sleek jock-hipster, not awkward but stupid, and this awkward nerd scientist, this bespectacled, bullied loner — he’s Electro, the villain; why don’t you laugh at him? Why don’t you see what power does to a nerd?

It may be the script, it may be the actor, but every single instance of this Peter Parker felt like he was the bully, not the bullied. (Maybe it was me, but I kept thinking, “This is a future serial killer, manipulating the people around him. He’s finding emotions hard because he doesn’t have any. Don’t believe his bullshit, Gwen! Keep away!”) I don’t remember who the actor was; unless he’s as omnipresent as these (several pages of expletives deleted) Orci and Kurtzman, he’s a part of this wave of Generic Mopey Action Movie Young Male Protagonists. (Did he play Kirk in those awful new Star Trek movies? It’s so difficult when the guys look the same and play the same mopey emotion-is-hard violence-is-easy roles.)

This Peter Parker needs a screaming parody of a Youtube scientist to explain him the basics of electricity. This Peter Parker doesn’t do science; instead there’s a soundbite of nerds pontificating on the radio over his suit’s hypotheticals because hey, nerds, point and laugh.This Peter Parker thrashes his room not by accident but because hitting things seems to be his natural outlet of frustrations, instead of, like, science and problem-solving. This Peter Parker knows how to get money — take a few photos and if that doesn’t help hit up an old bro, talk shit about girls, emotions are hard amirite, hope for a handout. This Peter Parker knows you can’t give your blood to scientists, because scientists are evil and dumb. (see footnote) This Peter Parker claims he’s Gwen Stacy’s second in science — well, I suppose if you read “second” as “less than”. This Peter Parker is so arrogantly suave it’s clear he has never been bullied, never has stumbled and fallen, never has been the underdog. And all that was missing from his brief web-and-electricity-experimentation montage was a can of beer and a few classmates in jerseys and baseball caps. The classic sort of Peter Parker wouldn’t need Youtube, he would have been awake during class!

As for Electro — well, after showing us an extreme but vastly preferable Peter Parker he gets into an accident and spends the rest of the movie roaring and lashing out. (Remember, the police shot first.) He just decides to be evil because, hey, what else, much like Harry Osborn about an hour later. Probably because trauma makes you insane and evil, and everything that makes you different makes you evil, doubly so if it makes you more powerful. (Except if you’re a protagonist. Then everybody hates you except for all the people you meet.)

But. The scene where Electro “comes out” and meets the Spider-Man. He finds an electric cable and snacks on it. Nobody is getting hurt yet, though a lot of people are scared. A policeman approaches, gun out, yelling at Electro to put the cable down. (Because if you see some poor unfortunate casting off sparks and clinging to an electric cable, that’s what you do — if they’re black and in a hoodie.) Electro puts the cable down, is almost overrun by a car, and flips it over him, because if you have a power of not getting killed you tend to use it. In response the police shoot and shoot at him, and continue shooting until he loses his mind and starts killing everybody. Because that’s what happens, I feel the movie telling me, if you give a nerd power.

But ah, if you have a properly mopey guy who looks like he can kick a ball and score with them chicks, right, he’s going to turn out all right. He can kick down scrawny smart-guy nerds like Electro and Harry left and right.

The only threat to him is a stupid girl who tries to keep away from him the hero. (But what can the hero do? He’s so tragic! He made a promise to a man! You can’t break man-to-man promises! The girl who the promise was about has got no say in it! Dead males over live females!)

(Later in the movie: What? The girl broke up with me? Better stalk her daily; that’s like super romantic. And, what, the girl’s going to England? Oh no you aren’t… okay if you are, I’m gonna follow you. I’m gonna follow you no matter where you go, girl, I’m gonna stand in the rain outside your window in a spandex costume because that’s how super romantic I am!)

(Also: There’s one thing about Gwen Stacy that the movie got right. Though, since we didn’t see a coffin, I’m not putting it past the movie-makers to introduce a mysterious pen-pal in England in the next movie. I’m still mad at Orci and Kurtzman for Kirk and the fake-out at end of Star Trek Into Dorkness. It’s no fun watching movies when a suggestion of death is so ludicrous as to destroy your suspension of disbelief!)

I think that when Spider-Man shoots out his jokes, we were supposed to consider him an underdog, joking because he was scared, because what else would a scrawny nerd like him be, fighting these super-powered popular bros and jocks? With this new Spider-Man, ehh, not so much. I can better see him appreciating the comedic potential of “Hey, you dropped your stuff! Why don’t you pick ’em up?” and “Stop hitting yourself, nerd!”


Footnote: If I recall correctly, a recording of Peter’s father says, in that stupid train hideout, that the spider-serum won’t work on people unrelated to him because his blood went into it. Which is to say, take your stupid coincidence plotting and mmmph mphhh, and good job on keeping your work from foreign arms dealers, daddy, but did you use too big words for Peter to realize there was a possibility of using Harry’s blood instead, and thereby healing Peter’s old friend and not turning him into a cackling supervillain? If Norman Osborn was a representative case, Harry isn’t dying quite yet, despite getting some skin damage.

But of course in Hollywood skin damage equals corruption of the soul, and if you ask for something you’re evil and not gonna get it. Especially if it could have helped untold millions because stasis is good and science is impotent and evil — wait, did Peter’s father sabotage a cure for AIDS and cancer? I think a few Libyan super-soldiers would have been a fair price for that.


Also: “Sony Vaio notebooks — so tough not even two men tearing at it in a falling plane can’t damage it!”

“Incredible” things you “didn’t know”

April 3, 2014

Grr. Time to rant against a fairly undeserving target.

I came across a Youtube video on the Alltime10s channel titled “10 Things You Didn’t Know about Game of Thrones”, though it starts with the title “10 Incredible Game of Thrones Facts”.

The list is, actually, “10 Things You Didn’t Know about Game of Thrones if You Were A Person So Not Interested About Game of Thrones You Were Not Going to Watch This Video Anyway”. Also, they weren’t very incredible at all.

For example, the tenth fact: the King’s Landing scenes are filmed in (some medieval parts of) Dubrovnik, Croatia, or as the video puts it, “King’s Landing is a real place”. If you are even a casual fan — watched one or two watcher-baiting documentarettes, visited Winter Is Coming or some other website a few times — you would know this. It’s one of the show’s biggest publicity points that it’s filmed in Croatia! Morocco! Iceland! Ireland! And “The set for Castle X was actually a real castle” isn’t novel or incredible either; even Monty Python did it.

Fact nine is that “sexposition” is a critical term that sprang up because of, um, some scenes in the first season. Again, this isn’t an obscure fact; it’s something even a non-fan would know. To not know sexposition is a term widely used to describe scenes in Game of Thrones, and a term made up for that purpose, you would have to have lived in a cave during season one; I think there were articles on and everywhere about the damn term. Late night TV people were talking about it. If you don’t know the word, you know nothing, video watcher.

The eighth fact is worse. “The show’s Iron Throne took 2 months to make, is almost 8ft tall and takes 4 men to lift”.

To be accurate, I did not know that.

To be honest, I didn’t think, either, that the Throne was something cobbled together from styrofoam five minutes before filming started. I didn’t know the exact numbers, but they do not surprise me. In much the same vein, I do not know how tall Kristian Nairn is, but a factlet exclaiming his height would not be a very “incredible” didn’t-know fact either. And so much of the show’s publicity has been “buy a copy of the throne for silly money!” and “come see the throne on tour!” that it being a solid prop is really really not incredible or unknown.

Here’s an incredible fact you didn’t know! Kristian Nairn, playing the mildly gigantic man-of-word Hodor, is 6 feet 10 inches tall! Incredible! You — didn’t — know — this!

You know, I wouldn’t be writing this pissy post if the video had been called “10 interesting facts”, or “10 nice details”; but I’m a mathematician and if you deliberately ignore the meanings of very definitely defined words to make yourself look better I’m going to get incredibly pissy about it.

(Anybody that uses the superlative form of an adjective online is lying. Anybody that does the same on TV is lying too, and also should be beaten with sharp hammers.)

(Also, eighth fact, footnote: “One of the melted swords is Gandalf’s Glamdring”. Which was an idea that went around the Net a few weeks ago. As far as I know this is just some fans saying one of the swords on the back of the Throne kinda-sorta looks like Gandalf’s sword. The sword pointed to as Glamdring looks like a sword and so does Glamdring, so this “fact” is not completely a stupid, unthinkingly propagated piece of uncritical, masturbatory, delusional, foetidly laughable bullcrap.)

Next, number seven: Direwolves were an actual prehistoric wolf species. This is actually not that well known; I can’t snark about this one.

6) There’s a tie-in rap album called Catch the Throne. If you’re interested in rap and the show, you’re likely to know this! And if you’re not interested in either, then this fact could be replaced by “There’s a character called Arya Stark!” and you wouldn’t know it either. And given that two established bands, The National and The Hold Steady, have had songs in the show, an album of not-in-the-show, show-related songs isn’t that novel an idea. Hardly “incredible” anyway.

Then there’s the fifth “did not know”, which is not a thing known by anybody except George R. R. Martin at all: why does Westeros have years-long irregular seasons? “May be from an unsteady planetary axis or ocean currents”, and “One theory suggests an elongated orbit, with periods near to and far from the sun.”

May I offer another? The irregular seasons may be because the sun of Westeros occasionally retreats inside the butthole of a red unicorn called Charlie, drawn in by Charlie’s vacuum-forming exotic gastrointestinal distresses.

This is what is known as fan theory, not fact. The reason Westeros(-plus-environs) has strange seasons may be an unimportant background fact, or it may have relevance to the plot. In either case, nobody in the books knows, and to my knowledge and to the limits of my shaky memory GRRM has never committed to or commented on any particular theory.

And “fans have crazy theories!” is not a very surprising nugget of knowledge in and of itself. With this series it’s one of the most best-known facts. “Tyrion Lannister’s being a dwarf may be because he’s actually a son of the Mad King, or a reverse giant” — may, may!

(And “elongated orbit = weird seasons”? Oh, for fuck’s sake, if you want to explain fantasy with science, try to do it properly. Earth’s seasons come from Earth’s axial tilt, meaning that when the north pole is tilted away from the Sun Finland has a winter: longer nights, shorter days. The period of this seasonal cycle is a year — one orbit around the sun. Half a year later Finland has shorter nights and longer days, and thus a summer. An elongated orbit would (I think) create a second summer-winter cycle: planet very far from the sun, it’s colder for everybody; planet very close to the sun, it’s warmer for everybody — but this cycle’s period would be a year (one orbit), too. These two put together can not make for years-long, unpredictable (to medievals) seasons; they, at most, I think, could give the hemispheres different-magnitude seasons.)

(For example: When the north pole points away from the sun, the planet is at its orbit’s farthest distance from the sun. Thus north gets short-days and cold-days at the same time, while at the same time south gets long-days and cold-days. For the other half of the year, north gets long-days (pole to the sun) and hot-days (close to the sun), and south gets short-days and hot-days. The result is northern seasons are more extreme than southern seasons.)

(Because Earth’s orbit is barely an ellipse at all, the distance from the Sun isn’t, as far as I know, much of an influence on the seasons.)

Next, there’s a porn parody of… uh, this is an interesting… I mean I didn’t…

“An Iron Throne made of sex toys”?

Let’s take a short break here. I need to go and…

Ooh, Ramsay, you sexy bastard, are you gonna make me beg for it?

Next: The George Bush head — a well-known, well-publicized Season Two thing. Amusing, yes, but one more “It was even on!” thing. (I can’t speak of the CNN TV channel, but I go to their website to read about US news. What gets a column there I treat as being “well heard” news in the US.)

Next (number two), a certain horse heart was made of gummy bears — again, if you didn’t watch a single season one Emilia Clarke interview, didn’t listen to the comment track, didn’t see a props featurette, sure, then it’s news to you. But if you aren’t a dedicated show-watcher, what is a mention of a horse heart prop going to mean to you?

The number one didn’t-know is… it’s about GRRM and his flippant remark that Game of Thrones was inspired by the pet turtles he had when he was a child. Because he had a toy castle for them, and they died a lot. Ha ha. Which is a humorous just-so story he tells in every interview he gives. I know, I’ve seen probably all of them; sometimes I get stuck on Youtube and can’t think of anything new to look for.


Other than this, the video is nicely produced, snappily paced, well written, and pleasant to watch. If you haven’t been watching the show since it began, many of the facts are ones you didn’t know, too.

The tweets of @MasksofEris, as a pdf

February 5, 2014

I made the non-worst of my tweets into a pdf book.

Mostly because it amused me.

Nothing more to say, really.


February 4, 2014

Hmm. Mercury is both a planet and a metal.


Sailor Mercury. Sailor Cadmium… Sailor Lead.

The planet-Sailor Mercury’s attack is mist. (Mist and not Mist, for those that speak German — though one could argue something you could compare to a bad day’s atmosphere in Shanghai is bit of a Mist- oder Scheissangriff, when others get a fireball or a lightning strike. Then again the smartest character in Sailor Moon is a cat, so what do I know.)

What if the metal-Sailor Mercury’s attack was some kind of a vapor, too? So… “Our enemies are defeated! In 1.21 years, once the heavy metals in their lungs have had time to work their… heavy metal magic!”

Wait, “Sailor Mercury”? Sailor Gemini! Sailor Apollo, fly me to the moon!


This kind of a silly game could go on forever. Take one Sailor Scout, and interpret the name in a funny way to generate others.

Sailor Mars! Sailor Snickers — Sailor Twix! Sailor Toblerone! To make an innocent girl feel guilty over what she eats is the pinnacle of villainy! In the name of chocolate, we will nourish you! (etc. etc.)

A possible podcast

January 5, 2014

Was listening to a podcast, and hit the most annoying part: “Like every other weekly program, [podcast name here] takes time and money to produce.”

It’s true, it’s a worthy plea and my anger at it is a scummy thing, so I channeled my anger into petty disagreement.

If I wasn’t lazy, I would disprove that statement.

With trivial one-time time, and without any money, it should be possible to create an app, applet or browser add-on that took random online audio sources, cut out pieces of them according to some simple algorithm, and pasted and layered them together into a puzzling or amusing weekly five-minute collage of noise. This would be a weekly podcast i.e. seeded by the week, and same to all listeners of it — creating a sub-reddit for it would be free, and the listeners could find meaning or amusing passages together.

It would not take (after the small initial effort) time or money to produce that podcast. It would have listeners, too: you would listen to five minutes of surprises, wouldn’t you?

Also, have I mentioned lately that “contrarian” is one of my lesser character flaws?


November 20, 2013

There are many courses which future teachers and university lecturers could profit from — not just by being paid to arrange the courses, but also by attending them and learning useful new things.

For example:

Chalk: an introduction

The Essence of Chalk

  1. a materials introduction
  2. sidebar: chalk, cement and sulfuric acid: a lesson in inoptimal storage methods
  3. chalk, temperature and humidity
  4. chalk under pressure
  5. the flashpoint
  6. sidebar: the great Ghananese chalk combustion disaster of 1989
  7. exercise: experiments in friction and traction

Chalk as a writing and drawing tool

  1. legibility: which colors to use?
  2. legibility sidebar: diff’rent colors of blackboards
  3. fonts, scripts and chalk writing
  4. sidebar: blackboard bold and blackboard fraktur
  5. the room size and your font size
  6. sidebar: multi-panel blackboards: a hazard or a menace?
  7. exercise: drawing big giant circles

The Chalkstick

  1. the ideal of width and length
  2. your hand and the ideal
  3. when the chalk breaks
  4. sidebar: gloves?
  5. throwin’ chalk: you and the attentive class
  6. exercise: chalk-tossing circle

The blackboard as a presentation space

  1. points, lines and paragraphs
  2. the consistency of sectioning and numeration
  3. backreferences and planning your erasures
  4. exercise: timing your output

Health effects

  1. skin whitening: temporary or permanent?
  2. “whitelung” and your health care coverage
  3. sidebar: do not wear a breathing mask, it will demoralize the students!
  4. chalk: is it edible?
  5. exercise: is it tasty?


  1. how do they work: smearing or picking up chalk?
  2. wipe once, twice or n times? diminishing returns vs. neatness
  3. sidebar: who wipes what: the standard, British and continental classroom wiping etiquettes
  4. dry or wet erasers?
  5. sidebar: the semiwet
  6. the optimum of wetness and the runny letters syndrome
  7. the super soaker alternative
  8. the “rasta dandruff” alternative
  9. sidebar: reconstituting the chalkstick
  10. sidebar (time allowing): whiteboards: the Satan in our midst

Review of the advanced courses

  1. chalk for intermediate users
  2. chalk masterclass
  3. chalk dusts and bellows: the art of dramatic entrances and exits
  4. white antiquity: an introduction to blackboard archiving, with an emphasis on authentication
  5. chalk and the outdoors teacher
  6. always wear black clothes: or, chalk usage on the fly

Based on this sketch, I could stretch this to a full-semester course; if I now just found someone to pay me, I would.


November 9, 2013

Went and saw Gravity. A great movie, exciting adventure, visuals so pretty I might go see it again just to gawp at it; pleasantly on the realistic end of the Hollywood realism spectrum.


There are basically two characters in this movie: the three-days-to-retirement Experienced Astronaut and the science-ballast Mission Specialist.

Now, the Experienced Astronaut is cool in all situations. This EA reacts to everything with dispassionate reason and expertise, makes all the right decisions, is willing to die to save the lives of others, and doesn’t even get winded. A perfect NASA advertisement, this astronaut: imperturbable, jocular and professional.

(The EA even does this: one guy admits making a mistake, and the EA says nah, not your fault, would have happened anyway. Which, to me, always seems to imply that if you don’t blame yourself you’re arrogant and then it was your fault. Arrgh.)

The Mission Specialist, on the other hand, spends half the movie gasping, squealing in terror, curling into a fetal ball, giving up, colliding into things, and generally acting the part of the emotional rookie that just barely keeps alive. This MS has science smarts, allegedly, but they’re useless: the flight simulator flunking, heavy-breathing, arms-flailing MS is dead unless the rugged, practical EA is there to tell the MS what to do.

And if the EA should die so the MS might live, why, the MS’s subconscious will use a hallucination of the EA to give the MS advice. Because the MS just needs the guidance of a strong, unemotional hand.

Also, the MS character is written to have a dead child in the backstory. The EA has an ex-wife and lots of stories; a life busily lived. The MS has this dead child and that’s all that defines the MS.

Well, that and the sense that the MS is fleeing personal demons into space; it would be better for the MS to just go back down and abandon these lofty pursuits which are much better suited to rugged practical unemotional people like the EA.

The voice of the EA is an amusing anecdote or a wise command. The voice of the MS is a panicky mantra or a wail of despair. We stick close to the MS to see all of the fear and anxiety. We keep a respectful distance to the EA, who has everything under control.


Consider these two roles, the Experienced Astronaut and the Mission Specialist. Then ask yourself, what the fuck were the makers of this movie thinking when they made the EA a man, and the MS a woman? Didn’t it strike their minds that this might be one of those, what were those, one of those stereotype things?

I understand that in the past both would have been men; but even then, I think they couldn’t have made the MS-not-Ms. such a sack of emotions. Not manly enough, you see. And a man obviously couldn’t have had a backstory that was all about children. Maybe a girlfriend; that would have been okay.

And let me note that the last third of the movie, where Ryan Stone became competent, was the best third. The first was Ryan Stone hyperventilating, and the middle third was Ryan Stone floating inside the ISS, alternately presenting her tits and her ass at the camera.

Here’s an idea: go see Gravity and imagine the genders of the two main characters are switched. Assess the probability of that movie being made, and despair.

I liked Gravity, I will probably go and see it again, and this was one of those things that get stuck in your head when you’re watching a movie, but oh what I wouldn’t give to change the roles of the two actors, or even to make both of them women.

Youtube annoyances

November 7, 2013

Grr. I hate Youtube people who end their videos with exhortations of “like and subscribe”.

Firstly. If I subscribe, then every time after this you are exhorting me to do something I already did. That’s like every teenager’s nightmare of Mom.

Nobody wants that, teenager or no.

Secondly. If I liked the video well enough, in a non-button-smashing sense, then I presumably will push the like button. If I do not think to do this, it is probably because I did not like the video enough: it did not create in me the need to register my enjoyance. That the maker of the video is telling me to like it, in either sense of the word, is annoying and arrogant. “I’m sure you liked the video, peon! Now push the button, your Master commands you! (whiplash)!”

(Obviously these words are said because if you annoy enough people into voting for you, Youtube success will result: fame, riches, a better commentariat. (Well, two out of three ain’t bad.) But that doesn’t mean I have to like the begging for votes, or accept something just because it makes fame more probable.)

The same is true of subscribing. You don’t get to say if I will. “Don’t forget to subscribe!” isn’t a gentle phrase. It doesn’t mean “Subscribe if and only if you want to see more like this!” — it means “I’m sure you want to see more like this, you will-less gawping-animal! Press the subscription button or you’ll feel the lash! (whiplash)!” — it is an implication that of course I like the video, I just might be too febrile and feeble-minded to remember to subscribe to further messages from the benevolent celestial brilliance of divine origin which is the vlogger.

Thirdly, if you produce videos which are four or five minutes each, then for the love of all that has holes in it, do not spend even ten seconds repeating that mantra above which is neither amusing nor interesting. Don’t insert content which is below even ads into your own videos. Don’t make the watcher go, here comes this empty part again. Think of the watcher that has newly come to you, and is watching video after video, cringing every time that formula repeats.

Related: If you have this four-minute vlog, don’t spend the first thirty seconds in a hokey introduction whose only content is to repeat the video’s title. We’ve all read the title; you can’t spin a mystery out of it. Assume the watcher read the title, and get straight to business.

If the title is “How to carve a pumpkin into a Halloween hat!”, then don’t start with “Hi! So okay guys, I’m pretty sure you’ve been out and about, and have noticed that that special day is approaching — yes, giggity, I refer to Halloween! Day of Ghosts! Boo! (etc. etc.) But if you have this, that and the other, do you have the hat? (etc. etc.) How about a pumpkin hat? Gosh, I think you never guessed this was going to be about that!”


Another, different annoyance: I have a tablet and a smartphone, so I use the Youtube app on them. (Because their browsers, while generally the shit, are as regards Youtube, shit.) This means there’s no Adblock on my non-laptop Youtube experience.

Which means that every four or five videos I suddenly flick up the Android menu, mash a finger on the mute button, look intently at a wall for five seconds, and then smoosh the “Skip ad” button as soon as it appears.

Because, by the gods dark and terrible, and the whole Stygian anti-glibness league, I will not be advertised at if I don’t want to be. And I don’t want to see the plastic people and the lies of implication that ads are full of.

It’s even worse that the Youtube ads are Finnish ads — I’m in Finland, so obviously — so I’m told to buy douches and anal cream and toddler-resistant dress shoes and whatever it is that your generic wealthy advertisers want to sell you; mostly things that (a) I don’t want, (b) I don’t need, and/or (c) I don’t feel like preferring one brand over another for.

Or then I’m shown trailers for movies I don’t want to watch: Fast and Furious Meet the Fockers.

I’ve had my tablet for over a year; it’s probably safe to say I’ve watched thousands of Youtube videos on it.

I haven’t watched a single goddamn ad it has served at me. Mute, look away, wait, skip. Not one. No more than a second or two of each, at most.

Why yes, some people have good reasons to feel good. I just have reasons like this… but they make me feel good!