DIARY 2004















Wed, Jun 30

<18:21> Rigorist moved in on Monday. To me it is a positive change in many ways, though baffling as well. Life feels more defined now that I have exactly one room of my own. One reason why the past month has felt so strange, may be that I've been prepared for his moving in, thus I never settled down in the entire apartment, which left a feeling of void.

Just had a dinner at the new Thai restaurant with my GF. It's a weird location away from the city centre, and the place itself is quite luxurious. Seems like a bad business choice to me, but one can only hope it will survive.

Tuesday was a full 10-hour day of hardware tweaks and other geeky activities at Teak's place. He had invited me to fix up things and cooked me a meal in return. While installing Mandrake on his main machine, we watched Army of Darkness, which was a tongue-in-cheek fantasy splatter piece. Not a serious movie by any means, but a nice geeky pastime while waiting the RPMs ooze in.

One recent SFish book took an exceptionally long time to read, despite only measuring 386 :) pages. Iain Banks's The Bridge, me and my GF read it aloud to each other. The book wasn't particularly good to my tastes, but as a reading experience it was wonderful.

I had high expectations for the novel. Someone had compared it to the movie Cube, as a complex puzzle that would keep your brain well occupied. It didn't seem anything like that to me. The Cubist tension of finding gradually more about things and craving for more information was completely absent. The main character was living in the three parallel worlds without much apparent progress, besides the final resolutions.

Also, the language was somewhat problematic for reading aloud. On occasion there were sentences half a page long, and dialogue was in the minority. With my previous experience of three Banks novels, I think he is mixing too many different styles and approaches in single novels, which results in a compromise lacking an edge. Moreover, he seems to have written many similar parallel-universe stories.

I'm heading for the Hog Feast for the weekend, and to Varkaus for a day or two after that. In the meantime, the geek compound of The RDKH should become inter-networked using the thermal energy release of Hell cooling down.

Sun, Jun 27

<02:25> These pages have been undergoing an existential crisis. Why are we here, they keep pondering. I should probably have asked that question myself a long time ago.

I've had a 'personal homepage' like so many others, trying to cram my entire self into a few sheets of HTML. It turns out not to be that easy. For one thing, people expect to learn to know each other gradually. It seems people have been getting a wrong impression of me through these pages.

Asking myself why maintain these pages, I've decided that a personal homepage is not an answer. When I think of other peoples' pages that I have found useful and interesting, it is often the auxiliary material like music, essays and software that has been the most important to me. Often those people don't tell all that much about themselves. Guess they've realized that the web is great for disseminating information, but not so great for living one's social life.

Hence, I'm trying to cut down the personal stuff and emphasize the results like software tweaks and scientific papers. I know, there isn't very much of this, but several people have found them helpful already. Since I use Free software and scientific publications myself, it's only fair for me to give back to the community whatever little I can. Thus I have moral grounds for keeping the site up, extending beyond my personal exhibitionism.

A lot of the personal stuff remains, if only to provide some background. You cannot really separate it all without becoming a dry technical manual and a collection of data files, which is not what I want. But I hope the focus is a little different now.

Fri, Jun 25

<15:25> Got my Jackson guitar back yesterday. A-P from Jasesoi was the guy who repaired it, and he had noticed that the neck had been replaced at some point. It was longer than the original, which explains the scale length weirdness. He said the result probably sounds better than the original setup. Of course I cannot compare it, but considering the physics I think I agree.

In the evening Rigorist helped me bottle the ale. The 40 or so bottles of porter are so close yet so far, as you have to wait for the bottle fermentation for a few weeks. Judging from the current taste, which is mighty dry, it appears to have fermented well so far.

Today is Midsummer and the streets are pretty empty. It looks and feels awesome, though things probably get more busy towards the evening. It's also pretty warm, though windy, and I'm going for a picnic with my GF at last :)

Thu, Jun 24

<12:25> Guess I should bitch and moan about the ongoing lack of DSL. I've complained a couple of times already, and the deadline is a few days behind. It seems to me that nobody is doing anything to advance the situation; at least they are not telling me about any technical problems.

Continuing with the bitter, I found out that I've been libellously portrayed in an online publication, along with an excerpt from this diary, all without mentioning me or asking permissions. Funnily enough, the publisher is careful about their own copyright. I'll contact the people once online, and will explain more if I get anywhere.

Before going into another movie experience, I must return to Vanilla Sky and a huge annoyance factor with it: the music and and the choice of actors are way too MTV-ish for a serious story. For instance Cruise is once again playing his usual rich arrogant bastard, though it's fine for the story (btw, this works much better in Magnolia). Also, Cameron Diaz is hard to take seriously in this role.

Now for 21 Grams. I've decided I won't tell anything about the film, except how good it is, as it might be spoiled easily. It's something I'll probably want to watch again, preferably with someone to discuss it.

Mon, Jun 21

<19:58> A more 'typical' pop-sci book happens to get into that rare slot of books I've read during a single day. (I also read Sandman vol. 3 yesterday, if that counts :) Today's is Sex and the Origins of Death by William Clark. It's pretty thin finishing on page 138 and continues the trend of conveying insight instead of information. In my impression, the main idea of the book follows the selfish-gene principle: most of the body is just a life-support system for the DNA, and hence can be discarded. Fortunately it's not as straightforward as with some single-celled animals where the somatic nucleus dies off right after the reproductive stages :) One curious point raised is that of 'nonsense DNA' of humans which does not contribute to any obvious function, but instead might carry a hidden message from The Others ;)

Watched Vanilla Sky last night (I'm probably starting to sound like Naula with my lack of variety in these movie nodings). It started off as a seemingly regular, uninteresting drama, but even the first dream sequences hinted at some more complicated reality level glitches in the spirit of P. K. Dick — I actually thought this was written by him, with all the Dick stories starring Cruise (A Scanner Darkly is on its way, btw :) but it turned out a remake of another film, Abre Los Ojos.

This was a delightfully disturbing viewing, in the afterglow of GEB and the Facade episode of Sandman (issue 20, story 4 of volume 3). I can't tell much more without spoiling it, but I might mention that the reality-level issues are refreshingly different from The Matrix and its followers, though naturally you can find parallels between every story of this kind.

Sun, Jun 20

<14:02> Flash, crackle, pop! There is thunder in the air, and a sudden bright spark inside my window. It was probably either the TV antenna connector, or a brief ball lightning (electrical equipment seems OK). Both possibilities are pretty cool; woe to those who have a TV, and I've never seen a ball lightning before.

Watched this odd little film The Order. It had a strange foreign feel to it, partly due to being European-made. It's one of these dark-side-of-Christianity stories, not bad in comparison to others. This one is distinguished by being like a short story, with a well contained plot without too much extra. The film hinged quite a lot on the setting in Rome, though not annoyingly so, and it was quite relevant to the story. There was something very amateurish and attention-seeking about the occasional special effects and the catacomb scenes, but I guess these too were justified by the plot. I'm not sure if I liked this very much, and it didn't leave much food for thought. I got the feeling Christians would find this much more fruitful as a source of debate and personal questioning.

<21:27> It's exactly two years since my trip into periodicity, patterns and chemistry, and a good time to tell about my experiences with Gödel, Escher, Bach: the Eternal Golden Braid, which I finished reading on Friday. Looping strangely enough, I think the periodic pattern issues of Escher and Bach are not so obviously essential to the book's main topic as Gödel. However, trying to define a main topic wouldn't do justice to the masterpiece.

To start with the dauntingly pessimistic: This book does not offer much new, except perhaps the notion that 'strange loops' crossing levels of meaning are essential to intelligence and consciousness. A simple example of a strange loop is a TV camera pointed at a screen where its output is directed; a conceptually simple setup whence unexpected complexity can emerge.

Realistically though, books on popular science and the philosophy of science are not meant to convey new information, so GEB is not an exception. What they should be is sources of inspiration and insight, and this is pretty much what GEB achieves. It is apparent from the beginning chapter that the author is proficient in many disciplines besides his original fields of maths and physics, notably classical music, which serves as a breeding ground for many interesting parallels.

One fairly striking idea that pervades the book is the strange-loop connection between form and meaning. In this age of HTML/CSS, LaTeX and related document formats this is a bit baffling. Yet the message of the book does come across as much from the form as from the content. Geekish wordplay is at the heart of the narrative, which is probably one reason why GEB is nominated as the essential nonfiction hacker book in the Jargon File. (Yes, it's a bit annoying to leave out links, it's not like I want to get online anyway. fuck.) It also manages many layers of self-reference to make the point clear, and it gets quite wild in the final story; dialogues and other short stories are mingled with actual chapters for a nice effect.

So what is it all about? Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem is the single most covered topic, if you want to count pages. Related ideas are number theory/formal systems, AI (which by the way stands not only for artificial intelligence), syntax and semantics. Now that I've written those down, it doesn't look like much, but it seems this gets into a distinguishing point against many other popular science books: they are often about definite topics, whereas GEB is clearly against any compartmentalization. It's about a sense of unity in many apparently different ideas, which is not only a vague new-age concept but has mathematical groundings too.

It follows that the book also gets a little into more mystical areas, namely Zen. Generally. I'm completely and utterly pissed off at the usage of 'Zen' as a buzzword for spiritual things in popular culture, and unfortunately GEB isn't much better in this respect. In many cases people use 'Zen' when they mean Buddhism more generally, and I get the feeling this is merely because of the trend value of the word versus a more common, boring option. The use of koans, however, does occasionally serve a purpose in this book, for example when it comes to examining a system from outside.

A generally unfortunate effect of popular science books is that they can be more rewarding when you already know some of the subject. GEB seems to assume a bit too much knowledge about things like genetics and programming. Then again people who decide to read these are usually pretty educated already.

Overall, the book seems like a good intellectual stimulation that reaches outside of the core ideas too; I got a lot of inspiration for making music, for example. But I must remark that I disagree with one idea. I was pretty excited to see that the book also mentions a pet problem of mine: can a brain understand itself? Surprisingly, Hofstadter notes that there isn't a Gödelian reason against such understanding, though he goes on to clarify that of course it can't 'fully' understand itself, being so complex... This kind of remark goes against the grain of most of the book, where difficult issues are very carefully explained and proved. It should have been left out, in my opinion. Obviously, the book cannot prove everything it states :)

Finally, I came up with an interesting 'experiment' when reading the concluding story. A strange loop, such as Escher's hands drawing each other, requires a higher level of meaning where Escher draws both of them, thereby resolving the paradox. A more lively example would be a pair of AI programs writing each other, or a pair of characters in a novel who are themselves novelists writing each other's lives. Thus, if you ever see such a strange loop in your level, it should mean that there is a higher level out there; for example, you're a character in a book. Unfortunately, it's quite possible to write books and AIs without such loops being visible. Furthermore, it's possible that if such loops are already here in our 'plane', then we are too accustomed to notice them.

Sat, Jun 19

<19:55> Brewed Edme London Porter. Never seen this one before, found it at the brewing supplies store Villiviini. If it works out fine, I may have a first taste at the Hog Feast, as it's just two weeks from now.

Getting online at Teak's place for a change, I got an email reply to my complaints about the DSL installation taking so long; I wonder how they expect me to read those mails :) They basically agree with me on the deadline of six weeks from the order date, though we seem to disagree on the latter by one day. I still can't comprehend why the hell it could take so long. People must be assuming everyone can get online at their workplace, so the home connection isn't so much of an issue; my friend Lauri for example is nyet-worked at home by choice, despite being an order of magnitude geekier than me.

This weekend is potentially very quiet and boring, with all the friends away for the weekend, and waiting for both my DSL and my electric guitar to be fixed. Good thing I have the acoustic one here, I've been experimenting with it for a change, and enjoying its mellow sound for a change. There's nothing stopping some tweaks to get the same sound from an electric solid-body, but the entire playing experience is different so you couldn't really get the whole hog.

Thu, Jun 17

<13:12> The situation with the Jackson PS-2 seems a little worse. I showed it to an instrument repairman who said he'd never seen anything like that before. Apparently it's a factory defect with the bridge being about 1.5 cm out of the correct position. Too bad the original owner hadn't returned it to the manufacturer, I think it's too late now.

The repair wouldn't bee too big an operation though, as long as it was a fixed bridge — which I'd prefer to a vibrato anyway. Otherwise the guitar is in great condition, as it obviously hasn't been played very much. On the other hand I might return it to the shop and get one of their other guitars instead. It's a tough choice. I remember they had a very decent model for € 350, which is less than the total of this Jackson repaired and a case.

<14:43> I've decided to have it repaired, and here's why: I don't want any further nasty surprises. With my luck, I'll fail to check for some other possible defect, though I'll certainly remember to watch for the intonation for the rest of my life. I also don't want any more business with the pawn shop, as they clearly are not knowledgeable enough to deal with musical instruments. Third, I have a penchant for unique and unusual solutions, which this guitar will certainly be after the repair :)

Tue, Jun 15

<18:50> Watched Kohtalon Kirja last night. I'd like to start this review by emphasizing that it's an amateur movie; though with several professional actors. With this in mind, the result is very impressive. Somehow I liked the story a lot more than I expected; there is a feeling of real science fiction at times, though the overall image is ruined by Matrix ripoffs and other action/fantasy/SF cliches. It seems this is largely intentional, adding to the humorous value. It's just because the film has been touted as the ultimate brainless entertainment flick, that I was so positively surprised. Still, it's not a serious film, but who needs those anyway.

I only learned from the finishing credits that this was the final thesis work of a few film students at Tampere polytechnic. Which makes for a nice comprison with Star Wreck. The major difference is, of course, the scarcity of professional actors in the latter. I think this is the only problem which keeps SW with the image of an amateur project; it's more apparent now that their visual and sound effects, music, etc. have reached maturity.

To Σmarize: Liber Conditionis is much underrated. It's more of an underground pseudoclassic (like the SW series) than a low-quality mainstream action flick. Of course, to the unwashed masses, SW might also seem like a brainless effects tour. I guess you could generalize this further: 99% of everything is shit, but for every single piece you can always find someone who loves it.

Mon, Jun 14

<21:33> IT'S BEEN FIVE WEEKS AND THE JOYMORONS STILL HAVEN'T GOT MY DSL WORKING. It's just me and my li'l ol' guitar here. I'm talking about the Jackson PS-2 I bought today, used, at the pawn shop for € 250. They also had an Ibanez EX-series which looked nice, but that was in a bad shape (rusty metal parts, meaning there could be other humidity-induced defects too) so I decided on the metalheads' choice.

It's a pretty basic model with a black, Strato-shaped body hosting a bridge humbucker and two single-coils. I like the simple black design; the looks probably shouldn't be a deciding factor for a first electric guitar, but you know me :) Extra cool points from the Jackson headstock too :)

As of the sound setup: My Linux box running Ecamegapedal means I don't plan to get a traditional amplifier any time soon. I'll get more software when I get that bloody network. The guitar's tone control doesn't do much, but the pickup toggle works as expected. All of the controls are a bit uncertain, but they seem to get better from the use, and I won't replace anything quite yet.

There's one unfortunate point. Apparently, the previous owner has installed a new bridge, which makes the scale length too short: the 12th fret is too far from the middle. This makes lead notes horribly out of tune, while chord playing is quite OK. With such tuning I can't give much of an opinion on the sound either. I'll need to get a better match ASAP. Nevertheless, tweaking is a nice thing to do in itself, and makes one more familiar with the instrument :)

Sync sync: I'm reading The Bridge by Iain Banks. I'm sure you also find it hilarious that I've plugged the PS-2 into my computer.

<22:01> Another film viewing: Bound, by the Wachowski brothers. This nice little Film Noir is an obvious stylistic predecessor of the Matrices, though the story is not that grandeur. But it's much more than a lesbian fetish act, which I thought it would be based on the opening scenes.

Fri, Jun 11

<00:37> Watched Star Trek 9: Insurrection. It was full of cliches which reminded me of the idea that ST is not really science fiction. At least this particular film wasn't.

Received my order of some Chinese clothes: Black Mandarin gown, black/gold reversible shirt, green kimono. The latter was something of a surprise as I'd thought of kimonos being like dressing gowns, but this was shorter, reminiscent of the jacket of a Gi (martial arts suit). Not bad though. The gown was a slight disappointment as I'd expected something like what Neo wears in The Matrix Reloaded, a long oriental jacket. This is less defined in form, more casual, though the accompanying silky red belt does help a little. Nevertheless I've been interested in such caftanlike garments and having one brings great satisfaction. The shirt, by the way, was exposed to the local nightlife on Wednesday night.

The DSL is still not working, it's been nearly five weeks since the order. Obviously I'm more than a little pissed off. I've started to open several pages of Slashdot and other news sites when I happen to get online with my laptop, for reading later on at home. It gets annoying when you see an interesting or essential link, knowing the futility of clicking.

More on the retro game machine: I've installed DR-DOS 7.03 with which I've had good gaming experiences in the past. Some of them like Stunts and Wolfenstein 3D run perfectly, which proves the sound card is working. Others like Llamatron and Pinball Dreams have strange problems. Actually I don't know the IRQ and other settings of the card, as they are set by the PnP BIOS, but there must be a way to see these somehow. I obviously haven't set the BLASTER variable or anything such.

I've secured a job for the next academic year as well, which is a nice backup at least. I'll be back where I started at Voionmaa school, focusing heavily on the international maths/physics/chemistry courses, which is exactly what I most enjoyed during the past year. I decided to get the bare minimum of courses required for the full-time status, which means an average of 14 lessons per week.

Mon, Jun 7

<01:53> More movies; what else have I had to do but watch them?-) Saturday night, after some good meditation — the Indian style cloth with a big Om symbol I bought to double as a curtain and a decoration, has made my new room a specially mindful and a little psychedelic place — I watched Donnie Darko. A friend had recommended it some time ago, and I'd forgot what it would be about. Turned out a nice mixture of teen angst and SF ideas, with the central character a bright but gravely misunderstood youth. It rang a bell or pi with some of my own experiences, notwithstanding time travel though. A neat 'small' movie that works and leaves the ending open and disturbing enough, as long as you keep your expectations on the ground.

For Sunday my GF and I had planned a picnic, but not surprisingly the weather was a suboptimally oscillating rainshine. The picnic turned indoors and we decided to watch a movie that wouldn't require too much attention. The Wizard of Speed and Time it was, a special effects film about making special effects films from the 1970s. Somehow it seemed like a hangaround/surplus production of famous FX movies of the era such as Star Wars, and the main character was an obvious predecessor to Doc Brown of Back to the Future. There was more of this unintentional comedy, mainly stemming from the 1970s style. The concept itself was interesting (synchronicity alert fnord) as I'm reading GEB which deals a lot with self-reference and going meta.

For my hacking fix (still offline, mind you) I've installed the Soundblaster 128 into Hoo, so it now has two sound 'cards'. I needed a joystick interface for the Creative stick from the previous loot, and after some tweaking it worked alright. Along with the required generic drivers (joydev, analog, gameport), the soundcard module snd-ens1371 provides the joyport driver. It needs the option joystick_port=1 to activate properly, as it's switched off by default. I've tried Tuxracer, and for curiosity also XMMS and MPlayer. It feels awkward for all of these; I've never played with joysticks very much, but I also think I can get more fine-grained control by dedicating a separate finger for every direction. On the other hand (pun intended), the joystick does provide fine grain in the form of analog levels, which is great for traversing smoother curves.

I've also played around with sound effects, using Ecamegapedal and my hackoustic guitar. For some reason I haven't got the EPIA mainboard's microphone input working; it might be a driver issue, or something to do with the 6-channel output feature which uses the microphone connector. So I just used the Soundblaster for this, while outputting from the onboard chip. I also played different pieces of music simultaneously from different cards, which went just fine.

Thu, Jun 3

<21:16> Watched Resurrection of the Little Match Girl at the film night of 42 (the local SF community) last night. This South Korean gem lives somewhere between the cool and the camp, drawing heavily on The Matrix and other films of game reality level glitches. The style of production is also an interesting mix between pathetic and kewl, and I often wondered how much of this was intentional. The main problem IMHO was the excessive Matrix references, which kept popping up especially towards the end. The story was sufficiently original in itself, so this I think was a mistake that should not have been there. Overall though, an enjoyable experience of alternative SF.

Today I went with Teak as he was going for shopping in the army surplus store at Tikkakoski. Though he didn't find the LARP props he was looking for, I got myself a nice empty 152 mm cartridge which I'm currently using as a trashcan. In addition I got a heatsink for 20 cents, a bargain worth it even if I don't have immediate use for it. The cartridge was 5 euros which is also pretty cheap. It would have been excellent when I was building my amplifier; a metallic case doubling as a heatsink with incomparable coolness. Better keep the store in mind for later projects :)

Wed, Jun 2

<12:39> Offline since Saturday in my new apartment. Might as well tell more about the place as I don't feel like having anything better to do. Funny how it is isolated enough here already, so the lack of network seems like a natural fit. It's practically the city centre, yet everything about the house — the slate-grey painted wooden floor, wonky windows, ancient-looking trees in the backyard.... the kitchen with tiny makeshift cupboards and two stoves, one electric — exudes old times through a timelike wormhole. It feels like a grandparents' summer cottage.

My own feelings about this all are very mixed up, not surprisingly I guess because it all took place at once: end of the teaching job, moving, and the net loss ;-) It's been a little daunting to notice how much my present idea of myself hinges on the Internet and other sensory, almost extroverted things. The day I moved in I put one computer back together just to get some music playing, and brewed myself some green tea; needed some familiar elements to keep myself together, to remind myself of who I am.

I also feel the need for a job or another regular activity, which is strange regarding my crave for this holiday. I'm sure the moving and the lack of connectivity would have been much easier on me, had I remained at work.

I find myself a little drowsy and sleeping nearly ten hours a night. I also seem to have an allergic flu. I've wondered if this was somehow triggered by the dust of moving, and the mental relaxation due to finished work. I only hope there's nothing wrong with the air in here.

Risto A. Paju