2018-03-03

C S Lewis popping up

It was when I was working at BT Labs, that I saw a notice in the (surprisingly good for a large working place) staff canteen which explicated C S Lewis’s Trilemma. To wit, this presupposes that Jesus must have been “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic”, whence one presumably is supposed to reach the conclusion that “Lord” is the only possible alternative. This has of course been criticised by better people than me, but at the time it was a new argument to me. As I mulled it over, I first realised that the options of course aren’t mutually exclusive. I can perfectly well imagine a god who is stark raving bonkers, and lying about it to boot. (Here’s one, for example.)

As I thought about it further, I defined my own quadrilemma, also of mutually non-exclusive alternatives: ”Mythical, Misguided, Misquoted, and/or Misunderstood”. Not that I think it will convince any believer, but I was rather proud of the alliteration, one letter up, and one alternative more. Take that, Lewis!

In other news, Ana Mardoll has, with the aid of her faithful commentariat, over the last few years, been doing close readings of the Narnia books and actually working out the consequences and implications of everything that happens in them. Not only do they find serious inconsistencies in how the world of Narnia supposedly works in terms of geography, time passing, political relations, etc, but also that the theology espoused boils down to “whatever Lewis personally enjoys (which is not particularly consistent either) is ordained by God”. Quelle surprise !

One does not have to require perfect consistency of stories, but as they say, once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it. As it happened, as a child I read the Narnia books in internal order and completely failed to notice that they were supposed to be Christian allegories until I got to The Last Battle, where it was so heavy-handedly presented even I couldn’t miss it. I felt immensely betrayed – I had enjoyed the books for stories of adventure and meeting magical creatures. Realising it was all a trick in order to indoctrinate in a religion I even then had deemed irrelevant was, I imagine, somewhat like finding yourself in the forest with the weird man and no candy forthcoming.

2018-02-25

Ominous Latin Chanting

“O Fortuna” is by now about as overused as „Also sprach Zarathustra“ in all kinds of contexts to the extent that I was somewhat surprised to realise that the lyrics actually mean something.

2018-02-24

I learn lots of things

Looking for a given book or article in a library brings up a lot of often very useful by-catch and Google searches are no different. I don’t even remember what I was looking for when I suddenly dredged up several decades worth of scanned issues of Моделист-конструктор, an originally Soviet, then Russian, hobby journal. For some (possibly quite good) reason the scans had been stored in DjVu format which required installing a reader, but once that had been done I started browsing the journal with increasing fascination.

For one thing, the subject width was astounding: a single issue could contain articles on how to fold origami frogs, detail drawings of Tu-22M landing gear for the modeller, and instructions on how to build your own all-terrain vehicle.

Even the Soviet era issues contained quite a few electronics construction projects, including radio transmitters and such. I would have assumed there were restrictions for reasons of state security on such, but apparently not. Another issue is how easy if would have been to procure the necessary components, but presumably that was also possible, at least for some.

The careful measurements on the drawings of the ZIL-130 lorry also spoke against the perception of utmost secrecy being upheld in all matters. (The measurements may of course have been distorted.)

2018-01-28

To Infinity and Beyond

“A bird flies back and forth across the universe. Once every thousand years, it comes to sharpen its beak on a mountain which is one hundred miles long and one hundred miles high. When that mountain has been ground to sand, one second of eternity will have gone by.”

I’ve always been rather annoyed by this storicle—it plays out as if eternity is just a slowed-down version of…what really? Eternity is that which has no end, so if we were to say that the grinding-down of the mountain took a googol seconds of eternity it would be as true—there would still be exactly as much of eternity left.

And so, in what way is eternity different from the time we normally experience? Arguably we could imagine that in the far future of our expanding universe, it will become so dilute that there is no way even to count time and say that at this (fuzzy) point time has ended, and that our universe has had a finite existence. In this case we would need to posit some other universe which actually exists eternally. Had we this eternal universe we could subtract the lifetime of our universe from it, and there would still be as much left of eternity.

This may be because people really cannot comprehend something infinite, and assume there should still be an end stop even to eternity, just very far away. However, I am reminded of what Stanley Schmidt wrote on the subject once (“Finite cornucopias”, Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Feb 1986):

“The concept of infinity is deeply ingrained in the average layman’s mind at a very real, painfully practical level. Infinity is the amount of electricity in the wall socket, the amount of oil in Texas…”

So, by that count as well, the bird mountain story is pointless. Let us now forget it.

2018-01-25

Flotsam and jetsam

Some time ago, my mother and I were out walking on a crisp autumn day. A contrail crossed the sky, and my mother, as she always does, pointed it out and said: “Look, a jet fighter!”

Now, people often say stuff that is incorrectly specific, to try to be funny or whatever. (The OBCM, for example, will refer to all birds as “ducks”, to underscore that she’s a city girl and can’t be bothered with the details of non-asphalt-based organisms.) But this time, just to make conversation, I said: “Heh, yeah, but properly speaking it’s a passenger aircraft, clearly going to land at Arlanda.”

My mother was surprised. “It’s an aeroplane?”

I in turn was surprised. “Uh yes, or well, aeroplane exhaust. If you look carefully, you can see the plane itself at the tip.” I gave a brief explanation of how contrails form in the cold air at altitude, and my mother marvelled at this new information. I for my part realised that she had been a child when newly-purchased Vampire jets probably would have been the only aircraft flying high enough to form contrails in the skies of Finland. Presumably her elders would have pointed out the streamers in the sky, excitedly referring to them as “jet fighters” [suihkuhävittäjiä], but not making it clear that a jet fighter was a type of aircraft rather than a strange name for a strange celestial phenomenon, and somehow the misunderstanding had gone uncorrected all this time.

I wonder what misconceptions I have that people think are just me trying to be funny.

2017-12-27

Trains in the Americas

In the early 1990s I did guest research at the University of Washington in Seattle. As it happened, I had friends in Vancouver, BC, not that far away, so a visit was indicated. Therefore I looked up Amtrak in the phone book and called them to ask about tickets. (The first web browser would be made public later that year, and of course it would be much longer before Amtrak had a web presence.) I could hear through the phone how the person at the other end eyed me suspiciously, of course there was no such thing as a train connection between Seattle and Vancouver. I for my part was equally taken aback, how did people then travel? Somehow I found out that if you didn’t have a car (in itself a weird idea) you would go by Greyhound Bus, which of course was an important part of America.

The Greyhound bus station turned out to be indeed populated by people who couldn’t afford a car. Drugs, possibly, but not cars. In the event, there were more travellers than fit on the bus, so we, the OBS, OBCM, and I, had to wait for quite some time for a second bus and a driver to be procured from somewhere before we were on our way. We travelled northwards and eventually stopped at a bus stop in the middle of pretty much nowhere. Apparently our bus had had a mechanical breakdown and we had to wait for yet another bus and driver to be located and ferried up from Seattle. There was a coin phone so I could call our Canadian friends and tell them we would be late. (This was long before mobile phones were common, and in the Americas they didn’t exist at all, as far as I knew.) A new bus did arrive, we boarded and continued our journey. Finally we got to the Canadian border, where we passengers by all means were very rapidly cleared by customs, but our bus turned out not to have a traffic permit in Canada, so now we had to wait for a bus and driver to be ferried down from Vancouver. Eight hours late we finally pulled in at the bus terminal in Vancouver and could call for our friends to come pick us up.

“Oh, good that you are safe, we thought you might have been shot at.”
“What!?”
“Didn’t you know? The Greyhound bus drivers are striking and they’re shooting at the strike breakers.”

Oh. Clearly very many things were different abroad. After our visit we did get safely back to Seattle, but in the future we used one of the competing (Canadian) bus companies.

Now it seems that Amtrak actually has gotten their act together and introduced a train connection between Seattle and Vancouver (and beyond). Interestingly enough the trains are described as ”European style”, whatever that means, say I who have travelled on European trains from Wales to Romania, but admittedly I have not travelled by train in the USA, maybe their trains have some peculiar features that are not present on European trains.

This recollection was triggered by the news that one of these new high-speed trains had derailed outside Tacoma, south of Seattle.

2017-12-05

Finished models 2017-VII–VIII

A Warhammer horse. It is made of plastic, instead of the white metal the other figures have been moulded in, but that made no difference to the Vallejo colours, they will come off the surface at the slightest provocation, no matter the primer used. I made a bit of a mess of the masking job as well, but there you go. The “1”s (one on each side of the shabraque) come from a dry transfer sheet I’ve had since time immemorial. The horse was light enough that there was no problem in attaching it to a transparent base with just a bit of super glue. (The original kit had two long runners that were supposed to slot into a base, but I prefer it this way.

The dryad got a nice wash and is getting closer to where I want to go. I added a bit of clear lacquer to give a sheen to the eyes and the oral cavity, but didn’t quite reach the effect I was going for. I shall continue to practice.