Year: 2009


Posted by – August 16, 2009

When I was a kid, school dining halls had big posters telling you to drink milk. They were paid for by Valio, a company that processes almost all of the milk in Finland. The posters said that you have to drink milk for healthy bones, hair and nails – if you didn’t you’d grow up bald and broken-boned (no, seriously, they had illustrations of this).

At the time I believed the posters because I believed pretty much everything I was told in school. I didn’t drink milk though (don’t like the taste), but felt vaguely dodgy for it. I did slightly wonder how people get by in the parts of the world where they don’t drink milk (or what humans did before they domesticated milkable animals), but I never made the connection that the posters advertising milk were advertisments. In retrospect, it seems almost unbelievable that even the name of the milk company on the posters didn’t clue me in – and I thought I was a smart kid!

Some of the other useless advice I got was to avoid drugs and unprotected sex, warnings that seemed more like a cruel joke than anything else.

You make your own Big Brother

Posted by – August 15, 2009

One of the quotes that randomly appear near the top of the sidebar of this blog is “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Whatever side of yourself you most want to present to the world is what your future self will be more like. I can feel that happening to myself right now, and I’m not sure I like it.

Blogging feels very different than it did when I first started on Livejournal. Back then it was a very personal, expressive, “teenage” thing. The vast majority of those entries underwent a Stalinist purge when importing material here. It was not very far from a true reflection of myself – not that it was purely a description of my personal life, but a form of self-broadcasting nonetheless (like self-reflection but outwards). Now I feel uncomfortably restricted, very aware that everyone I come into meaningful contact with will google me and make a quick judgement based on the first things they see.

The safest things from that perspective are technicality, glibness and distant commentary on something someone else thinks. The worst things are bubbly emotionality, being uninformed, honesty and being boring. As a result, I don’t suppose this blog is terribly representative of me as a person. In real life, I often am pretty expansive, impulsive and eager to sound out on things way beyond my expertise.

One might ask why I would want to “be myself” here – after all, the market for persons is very much a buyer’s market – but ultimately, I don’t have any reason to do do this but self-expression. Besides, the really fun things to read, even when they’re strictly business, always have a powerful personal flavour. I want to (learn to) write that way.

The weird thing is that when I meet people in real life, even the new acquaintances whose googling I dread, I don’t particularly restrain myself – and nothing bad happens! People like me fine, and the ones who don’t I usually don’t feel bad about. I haven’t had the experience of missing out on a job opportunity because of my personality or what I think, whereas the opposite probably has happened.

Still, when I’m alone, thinking about how to seem, the sterile, defensive self-projection comes through and is even gaining ground inside my mind. It’s like I’m being persuaded by what I think a person should appear to be like. Propriety is taking me over! On the whole, this conflict has made me less eager to blog or to really think about what sort of a person I am. I don’t know how to solve this yet.

Partly this is due to the widespread tendency to be somewhat ashamed of oneself deep down, something that for me goes away when I’m caught in the moment, socialising and trying to get everybody to like me. But another part is the clear message some other expressive people have gotten (and is also one of the quotes in the sidebar): You’re WRONG and you’re a GROTESQUELY UGLY FREAK. I’m not a truly ugly freak, but I have my ugly sides. Socially, I am almost proud of them, but they somehow become scary when written down in pixels.

As for the really ugly freaks – well, I have some reading habits I am wary of admitting to; widely excoriated things on the Internet I’m drawn to for whatever reason. I guess it’s often a simple curiosity of “dangerous things”, plus the fearlessness and force of personality of their authors. In Finland the writings in question have led to legal prosecution and conviction in some cases (most famously Jussi Halla-aho will soon be on trial for his opinions). In one fascinating case in Canada it led to public self-flagellation, humiliation and removal of the blog in question, one which I had happily (often disagreeing) read for years unaware of what a heinous thing it would turn out to be in a Canadian university.

Such things sometimes make me catch myself – it seems perfectly possible that I’m one of these sick, terrible people who deserve to be run out of civilized society. And then there’s the reality where I feel like I’m acting normally and get along with people. I don’t know which reality is more accurate, and it’s making be a boring coward and I want to break out of it.

Anon v. Trad

Posted by – August 13, 2009

Which is better, Anonymous or Traditional?


  • Beowulf
  • House of the Rising Sun
  • The Federalist Papers
  • Distilling alcohol


  • Gilgamesh
  • Whiskey in the Jar
  • The Bible
  • Brewing alcohol

Unknown is pretty good too…

New pgp key

Posted by – August 12, 2009

In my foolish youth I generated a personal pgp key with no expiration date, uploaded it to a keyserver and promptly forgot about it. I’ve lost the key, which means I can’t prove I don’t want to use it anymore (“revoke” it). It will therefore live on forever on keyservers around the world. But I’ve generated a new key and hereby declare the old one abandoned.

Don’t let this happen to you, kids! Generate a revocation certificate ahead of time and store it somewhere safe but difficult to lose. Some say you should print it out on paper.

By the way, anything encrypted with the old key will be unreadable by anyone, so if you want to get something off your chest, here’s your chance.

keyID 87D944A6 is dead, long live keyID C713D021! If you want to communicate with me in privacy, look me up on any keyserver and choose the newer key. Or just encrypt with the following:

Version: GnuPG v1.4.9 (GNU/Linux)


What if the world were made of pudding?

Posted by – August 8, 2009

Story from North America. First it’s kind of silly, then it’s kind of catchy, then it’s just great.

For people who are annoyed by bad behaviour in cinemas.

SF reading list

Posted by – August 8, 2009

I’m getting together a list of important science fiction books I’m going to read in some sort of recommended reading order. Suggestions are very welcome. Entries with asterisks are ones I’ve already read. Numbers refer to position in the reading order. I’ll be updating this entry periodically.

A note about importance: I want to include only books that are both important and good. For example, I’d very much like to include John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes but it just isn’t important enough. Conversely, I may be taking out some books after I’ve read them and found out they’re no good.

A note about the definition of science fiction: I’m only including “obvious” sci-fi, meaning that some books which have become classics of general literature are excluded. Briefly, this means stuff like Fahreinheit 451, Slaughterhouse Five, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Nineteen Eighty-One and Brave New World.

Title Author Year
1 The Time Machine * H. G. Wells 1895
2 The Caves of Steel * Isaac Asimov 1954
3 The Naked Sun * Isaac Asimov 1957
4 The Robots of Dawn * Isaac Asimov 1983
5 Robots and Empire * Isaac Asimov 1985
6 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? * Philip K. Dick 1968
7 Stranger in a Strange Land * Robert A. Heinlein 1961
8 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress * Robert A. Heinlein 1966
9 Dune * Frank Herbert 1965
10 Solaris * Stanisław Lem 1961
11 2001: A Space Odyssey * Arthur C. Clarke 1968
12 The Gods Themselves * Isaac Asimov 1972
13 Ubik * Philip K. Dick 1969
14 Prelude to Foundation * Isaac Asimov 1988
15 Forward the Foundation * Isaac Asimov 1993
16 Foundation * Isaac Asimov 1951
17 Foundation and Empire * Isaac Asimov 1952
18 Second Foundation * Isaac Asimov 1953
19 The Mote In God’s Eye Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle 1974
20 Foundation’s Edge * Isaac Asimov 1982
21 Foundation and Earth * Isaac Asimov 1986
22 Neuromancer William Gibson 1984
23 Ender’s Game * Orson Scott Card 1985
24 Hyperion Dan Simmons 1989

Second string:

The Kraken Wakes * John Wyndham 1953 A compact, relatively minor but quite fascinating story
The Complete Robot * Isaac Asimov 1940-1976 Recommended as an introduction to Asimovian robots to those who want one, but the collection is rather uneven (especially the first half). There are gems too.

Under consideration (books which may belong on the list but I want to read / learn more about before including)

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale Philip K. Dick 1990
The Persistence of Vision John Varley 1978
Red Mars Kim Stanley Robinson 1992
Green Mars Kim Stanley Robinson 1993
Blue Mars Kim Stanley Robinson 1996
The Fall of Hyperion Dan Simmons 1990
Endymion Dan Simmons 1996
The Rise of Endymion Dan Simmons 1997

Nummern, Zahlen, Handel, Leute

Posted by – August 8, 2009

I’ve gone several years now without buying practically any books or records (maybe a total of 10 in three years). At one point I felt I was accumulating too much stuff, so I stopped getting more and started selling/trashing/donating it. But now I’m starting on a sci-fi reading kick, and the library isn’t really good enough. So I bought some stuff.

How the ecstasy of buying, gaining and owning once again floods my mind! How the dread pain of parting with money grips it! Sweet possessions, horrible mortality.

I just bought three books off Amazon marketplace, where the independent booksellers get to try to undercut Amazon’s prices in exchange for a cut of the profits. It must be a slim cut indeed:

1 Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel £0.01
1 Isaac Asimov, The Naked Sun £0.01
1 Isaac Asimov, The Robots of Dawn £0.01
3 Postage & Packing £3.94
Total £11.85

This isn’t exactly how I thought reading books would work in 2009, but I guess it’s better than the way it was before (or…?)

I did buy some stuff from a regular bookstop as well: Asimov’s The Complete Robot and Emergency by Neil Strauss, a book about the dangers of the modern world and how to escape them. The latter is pretty disappointing, but it does give me some additional paranoia-fuelling ideas.

One of the things Strauss does in it is get a second citizenship (St. Kitts) as part of a “life backup plan”. This re-reminds me of something a friend reminded me of recently: that I should be able to get a UK passport if I wanted to. According to said person, getting the passport in Helsinki would cost me at least 154 euros. That’s a bit much for a bit of paranoid fun. Also, when the zombies attack it’s hard to see how the UK will be safer than Finland. But still, it’s tempting. Of course, for meaningful security I’d ultimately have to establish a base / financial presence of some sort there, which would take some doing.

I still dream of Canada and South Korea, but in paranoia terms Canada is pretty similar to Finland and South Korea is about as bad in a bad situation as anywhere.


Posted by – August 6, 2009

This post is for emacs users.

Every day I start work by opening a bunch of files in emacs frames. Sometimes they’re all .java, sometimes .cc and .h. Sometimes they’re all the files in some directory. C-x 5 f, C-x 5 f, C-x 5 f etc. I could use wildcards, but then all the files would be loaded into the same frame. There must be a better way! The following remaps the bindings for find-file-other frame to a function called find-file-other-frames, which loads one file into the current frame and the rest (found by using wildcards) into new frames of their own. If you only want to find one file, it’s opened into a new frame as usual.

;; a find-file-other-frame that for multiple files opens a new frame for each
;; one except the first
(defun find-file-other-frames (filename &optional wildcards)
  "Edit file FILENAME, in another frame.
  Like `find-file-other-frame', but in the case of multiple files loads the
  first one into the current frame and creates new frames to each of
  the remaining ones."
  (interactive (find-file-read-args "Find file(s) in other frame(s): " nil))
  (let ((value (find-file-noselect filename nil nil wildcards)))
    (if (listp value)
        (setq value (nreverse value))
        (cons (switch-to-buffer (car value))
          (mapcar 'switch-to-buffer-other-frame (cdr value))))
      (switch-to-buffer-other-frame value))))
(define-key ;; replace the keybindings
  (current-global-map) [remap find-file-other-frame] 'find-file-other-frames)

edit: a perhaps better way to do the last two lines:

  'find-file-other-frame 'find-file-other-frames (current-global-map))

Aspects of pizza value

Posted by – July 24, 2009

The paper today had a look into the cost of family-sized pizzas in Helsinki. The story found that family-sized pizzas are a rip because the cost per area was greater than in the normal ones. Whoa! Though I wonder why they didn’t weigh the pizzas.

It occurred to me that the reporter had made the assumption that pizzas grow proportionally, ie. that the crust is as much bigger in a big pizza as the radius. I don’t think this is true – the crust is closer to being constant in width. If this is so, the topping part of the pizza grows quadratically while the crust grows constantly, so some of the extra value of the big pizzas is being overlooked in the newspaper story: with r the radius of the pizza and c the width of the crust, the area of the crust is

pi*r2 – pi*(r-c)2 = pi*(r2 – r2 + 2*c*r – c2) = pi*2*c*r – pi*c2 = A*r + B

where A and B are constants. How significant is this oversight? Pretty significant:

Here the dark blue line is pizza surface area, magenta is topping surface area, and yellow is crust surface area (left scale, cm2). Turquoise is the ratio of topping to pizza (right scale, from 0 to 1). The x-axis represents diameter of pizza in cm. A crust width of 2 cm is presumed throughout. Over the pertinent range, 30 to 40 cm in diameter we go from 75% topping to 80% topping. The marginal topping ratio (the topping ratio of just this extra bit of pizza) of this growth is a whopping 89%! Too bad they don’t sell marginal pizza. Also, I actually rather like the crust.


List day

Posted by – July 24, 2009

My current list of the most overrated things. They are in rough order of overratedness (which doesn’t mean either worth or ratedness).

  1. Elvis
  2. Aristotle
  3. The Stone Roses
  4. The Rolling Stones
  5. Kierkegaard
  6. Death in Venice (the movie)
  7. Hegel
  8. David Bowie
  9. The Sixties
  10. Ronald Reagan
  11. Peter Cook
  12. Cognac
  13. Beethoven

This week’s list of words I would support proper use of:

  • exponential
  • ballistic
  • correlated
  • random
  • logical

That is all.

edit: actually that’s not quite all. Overrated thing number zero is sex.

another edit: oh yeah, and overrated thing number something is Michael Jackson *ducks*

Already confessed, don’t need to confess again

Posted by – July 16, 2009

Some wonderful lunatic has done a bunch of the most amazing flash-based websites I’ve ever seen for US churches.

Evangel Cathedral – they’ve got everything. Seriously. When you get bored with the minutes-long flash intro and click through it, check out “ministries” from some smooth porn funk about Jesus. In fact look at pretty much anything, it’s amazing, each section has its own theme tune and voiceover.

Sexy Church of Christ – actually called VTC Ministries. You have to see it to disbelieve it.

Slavery-themed Church for robots from the future

Truth Transformation Ministries – no really, that’s the name. Can’t think of anything funnier to say about that.

Also, also, also.

edit: Are you ready to be catapulted to a new dimension of worship?


Posted by – July 16, 2009

DAVE: You wanted me?
CARLOS: Yes, it’s about this machine… it isn’t working.
DAVE: Yeah, it’s broken.
CARLOS: You knew it’s broken? Why did you give me a broken one?
DAVE: You said you wanted a broken coffee maker.
CARLOS: Yeah, but this one isn’t working.
DAVE: What do you mean? It’s not supposed to.
CARLOS: Why would I want a machine that doesn’t work?
DAVE: Well, I don’t know, but you said a broken coffee maker so I brought you one.
CARLOS: Yeah, and I have my broken coffee right here and this thing doesn’t work!
DAVE: Oh! I see. You wanted broken coffee, not a broken machine!
CARLOS: I wanted a BROKEN COFFEE MAKER. Is that so hard to understand?
DAVE: I’ll get right on it.


DAVE: Yes?
CARLOS: I just wanted you to know you’re fired. This doesn’t work either.
DAVE: What? No, I’m sure it does! I tested it myself right before I brought it here!
CARLOS: Well, look. The coffee’s just lying there.
DAVE: You mean that cup of broken coffee? You made it with the machine, right? What’s wrong?
CARLOS: No, I brought the coffee to work with me. The machine isn’t making it do anything.
DAVE: You want the machine to make it do something?
CARLOS: Well, it’s a broken coffee maker, right? Here’s the broken coffee, it isn’t being made into anything or to do anything.
DAVE: Maybe we need a broken cup…
CARLOS: Shut up! You idiot!
DAVE: Oh yeah? Make me shut up.
CARLOS: Ha ha, I don’t have a shut up maker. I mean, a Dave maker.

Retired dead

Posted by – July 6, 2009

People are sometimes incredulous when I tell them cricket is one of the more lethal sports (or was so before batsmen started wearing helmets). Some evidence of this: umpire dies in cricket accident. Got hit on the head by a ball – from a throw, not even a stroke! Cricket balls are dense, hard and perfect for punishing the fingers of awkward catchers. And fracturing skulls.

The sun also shines into the pile of twigs

Posted by – July 6, 2009

Some uncharacteristic chess heroism:

Black has just played Nf6-d7 thinking he has enough time to force an exchange of my bishop on e5. Think again!

16. Bxg7 Rfd8 (…Kxg7? 17. Nh5+ Kh8 18. Qh6 and mate on h7 or g7 next move) 17. Nh5 e5

18. Bxh7+ Kapow! I think this is the first time I’ve done this kind of double bishop sacrifice with justification. 18… Kxh7 19. Nf6+ Qxf6 (…Kxg7 20. Qg5+ and mate next move, or …Bxf6 or …Nxf6 20. Qh6+ and mate next move) 20. Bxf6 Bxf6

and white should be winning.


Posted by – July 6, 2009

I recently rather surprised myself by realising how easy it is to come up with beliefs that are basically hunches but that I’m fairly confident about. To wit:

  • Interest in pro sports correlates with religiosity
  • Preferences in programming languages predict intelligence
  • Physical strength in males correlates with self-confidence
  • The previous correlation is stronger than the correlation between attractiveness and self-confidence in women

Actually, now that I start listing them they seem so obvious that they’re hardly worth mentioning. Maybe my true calling is making up correlations for social scientists to verify.

Noticing this stuff is also an insidious kind of self-suggestion. Lots of people seem to hate Java (the programming language) because they hope they’ll become more intelligent that way (I may be in this group). Same for despising pro sports. In those two cases there probably isn’t much causation, just correlation – but I am making an effort to become stronger on the hopes that the relationship between strength and confidence is partly causal. Not working yet, but at least I can now confidently deadlift my bodyweight.

Your thought for the day: is ejaculation ever really premature?

People like us

Posted by – July 6, 2009

How does everyone know who to root for in instances far-flung political unrest? We want Mir-Hossein Mousavi to be the president of Iran rather than Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and figure that there must be some kind of cheating going on because our guy didn’t win. Far as I can tell, Mousavi is supported by young, English speaking people with mobile phones and Internet access and Ahmedinejad by illiterate peasants. Why isn’t Ahmedinejad the default romantic leader of the people like Castro or Mugabe before they went out of fashion? How is Mousavi a reformist considering that already served as prime minister during most of the eighties, including over a 1988 mass execution of political prisoners? I’m not being facile, I genuinely am not sure why this is so. Sure, Mousavi has made some noises about relying less on the “moral police” and being nice to everyone, but it’s unclear why anyone should believe either in his sincerity or his ability to bring about such changes.

Also: Honduras. Unless I’ve misunderstood something, the president tried to subvert the constitution of that country to stay in power beyond his term limits. The courts ruled this illegal and he was detained for “treason and abuse of authority, among other charges”. How does everyone know we’re supposed to support him in his quest to stay in power indefinitely like Chavez?