Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Random Meandering Thoughts

We won't dwell on the passing of Tess the Lunatic Hound for much longer, except to consider the mourning process (yes, she was a beloved pet) for a little bit, and especially guilt. It seems that dealing with guilt is a mandatory part of losing a pet, or a person. The bad part is that handling guilt is a learned ability; it's not something that you acquire naturally without some effort. Guilt itself is an advanced concept which can only be disentangled or even experienced by creatures with intellectual and emotional memory, after all. It's an artefact.

Much like support groups, or so I see in fictional stories, it seems as if there are several stages to dealing with guilt (grief is different). First, there needs to be some acceptance that we're not in control of most of the things that happen around us (a sense of scale), then a bit later there needs to be a sincere apology to the victim of the perceived guilt (even if they don't recognise that there was a problem), and then you need to apologise to and forgive yourself (reach acceptance).

Isn't it strange that one of the things you have to do when you feel guilty about something is to apologise to yourself? Isn't it interesting? Why should it be? As far as I can tell, having worked through this not at all, and now merely grasping my way towards certain truths, it seems that the apology is part of a social contract: A forgiveness must be preceded by an apology, or nothing changes. Does that make sense? Sometimes, you can't apologise to someone involved because they've moved on, and all you have left is to apologise to yourself and pledge to try better in the future. Even if your interlocutor (oooh, unnecessarily fancy word!) is around, their forgiveness is nothing in comparison to your own, although it is a necessary part of the process. Perhaps people need there to be a God-type figure purely for some notional absolution to come from somewhere?

Whatever the truth about life may be, guilt can only be recovered from with forgiveness. If the people of the world forgave themselves a little more, perhaps we wouldn't be living in quite so much irrationality and madness? Of course, the world might also improve if people actually thought about what they were doing instead of just stomping around and behaving habitually... I wonder where the most enlightened society in the world might be at the moment. Would it be very interesting or very boring to live there?

We need self-awareness, and the ability to manage ourselves. Self-awareness will unlock the future of the planet Earth, and of our exploration of the universe, if we only permit it. If we're going to go out there, perhaps we will have to learn to forgive ourselves as a species and go out and make friends withs the stars.

It's time for 'Star Trek'.


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Book: 'The Conan Chronicles: Volume 1' by Robert E Howard (originally 1932-1934)

(Due to recent events, writing is not the easiest activity to perform. Please bear with me.)

This is a highly curious reading experience. Robert E Howard effectively invented a whole subgenre of fantasy with the 'Conan the Barbarian' stories, originally published between 1932 and 1934. It was called 'swords and sandals', and was highly pulpy magazine fiction. He wrote magnificently, and made a major success of his creation, over that very short period, and the originality shines through even now in 2017. The only problem is that in the 1930s, sexism was still highly dominant in magazines such as 'Weird Tales', in which most of the Conan stories were published. The result is that this first volume is by turns brilliant and uneasy. The women are all 'supple', and very often end up stripped naked and trapped, in danger of all kinds of terrible depredations. However, and this is where the uneasiness kicks in, the stories are set in an ancient age, a period of time lost to history, where physical might ruled. As a result, wouldn't women constantly be in a far more dangerous position in that reality? However, if you can put all these struggles aside, and embrace the other more positive aspects of the female characters, then you're in for a very good ride! On the other hand, the strongest female characters tend to be evil... Maybe we can make a misogyny charge after all...

In this first volume, presented in internal continuity order, we encounter rogues robbing a wizard's tower, metallic giants bringing long dead cities back to life via the arcane arts, witchy twins usurping their sisters' thrones, gigantic snakes galore, monstrous sorcerors, cannibals and crooks, and more gory battles and steely thews than you would find in any other set of stories in existence. Oh, and a thousand uses of the word 'supple'. Howard may have been obsessed with the word 'supple' or it may have been imposed by editorial policy! Conan is a great character, a noble barbarian who makes the moral choice more often than not, in stark contrast to his 'civilized' contemporaries. That is the real core of these stories, that deliberate spearing of the hypocrisies of what we call civilized society. Never does the barbarian do anything dishonest, not even with ladies who promptly end up relying on him for their safety.

It's a great set of stories, albeit with some of the problems of their period,  and covers the first part of Conan's history. Next time, he will eventually end up as the sovereign of Aquilonia...


Friday, 13 January 2017

Sad Day

This is a difficult one. You see, our dog died yesterday and everyone's just a little bit out of their mind. It's not just that the insane barking fiend died, but also that there is always that glimmer of guilt to keep you up at night wondering. Could we have known that wasn't just indigestion, and stayed with her to the end? Was there something that could have been done? Did she know that she was loved when she died alone in the house? It doesn't seem right that she died alone. We loved Tess the idiot dog, and now she's gone. In the rush of taking the body away to the vet, we didn't even keep her disc. We really should have kept her disc, right? That's a thought that will fester. She was a good dog.

It's a terrible thing, to take your pet's body away. With smaller pets, you can bury them in the garden, but an Old English Sheepdog is far too big to bury, especially on a wet January afternoon. Instead, you have to seal yourself up mentally, carry her out on a blanket with someone else, rearrange her legs so she fits in the boot nicely - the worst part- and take her to the vet. Then, two impassive ladies take her away on their own blanket and you're left crying in the car, as the dog heads off to cremation. It's terrible. It shouldn't be such a crude experience. The dog is an important part of the family, and then suddenly they're gone. Is it the same with people? I hope not to find out for a while, yet.

Oh, Tess the Old English Sheepdog, you were a nut. First, you didn't like to chase balls or sticks, and instead just played tug of war endlessly until you got bored. Secondly, you would only go out for walks if a car ride was involved. Thirdly, you guarded your food maniacally from all men. Fourthly, you had all the canine articulacy of a glove puppet. Fifthly, you liked to roll around on my bed in the morning after sneaking in while I was in the bathroom. Sixthly, you scared the postmen silly. Seventhly, you liked to lie on your back and paddle your feet endlessly for attention. Eightly, you ate everything indiscriminately and ninthly, you added extra life to a strange and lonely existence. Tenthly, you were always lying in the worst possible place, and it will be horrible taking the direct route from point to point. Finally, you always wanted to be in the middle of everything.

Rest in peace, Tess, and if there is a doggie heaven, I hope you're swapping tall tales about the family Bain with the other long gone pets. Good luck.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

On The Book Piles IV - January 2017

Having just completed the first of the two volumes of 'The Conan Chronicles' (review forthcoming), it seems to be an appropriate time to stop thinking about stories being written and instead write a little about what's being read. We can do that or write about 'Turnabout Intruder', the last of the original episodes of 'Star Trek', and I might never be ready to open that controversy. Instead, let's go to the book piles! Here's the choice selection.

'Joan Of Arc' by Mark Twain

It's almost done. Months of procrastination are at an end, as the roaring run through 'Conan' and 'Around The World In Eighty Days' have broken the reading block. 'Joan Of Arc' is a marvelous novel from Twain's distinctive pen, and if he can only get through the martyrdom phase without blowing all the good will earned previously then it will be as close to a masterpiece as is possible to declare without reading his other classics. It's not a parody at all, but a loving historical reconstruction.

'The Illustrated And Complete Brigadier Gerard' by Arthur Conan Doyle

A few stories in, it has become clear that Doyle really knew his stuff. There's something very endearing about the indefatigibly pompous Brigadier Gerard, a character of the same class as Professor Challenger, with the great Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson hovering above them in the Doyle-ian stratosphere. It's going to be a lovely jaunt through Napoleonic times, from the other side of the wartime curtain, and a funny one too.

'Journey To The West' (Volume 2) by Wu Cheng'en

Still not begun, but volume one was so endearing that this is sure to be lovely as well, yes?

'Riders Of The Purple Sage' by Zane Grey

A Western? A Western has made it into the book piles? It's a legendary one, at least. Even from reading the first page, you know it's something special. I'll have to remember to add some Louis L'Amour 'Sackett' novels to the book wish lists...

'The Voyage Of The Beagle' by Charles Darwin

It's fascinating when picked up, and then immediately forgotten when put down again. Certainly, it will be finished one day. After 'Joan of Arc', perhaps? Herodotus awaits in line. The behaviour and thinking of a naturalist in the middle of a fantastic expedition is intriguing and world-expanding, but the historical detail of the mid-nineteenth century is what now makes this a solid middle-grade classic.

'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious' by Sigmund Freud

Freud knew how to write. Even in translation, the brilliance shines through. I don't care if it has all been debunked, if it has, for the reasoning and scholarship is unparalleled. Would any normal person think about analysing humour and the making of jokes? It will be interesting to check out his other volumes as times goes on.


Monday, 9 January 2017

Jigsaw Puzzles

One can learn a lot from jigsaw puzzles. They are a microcosm of problem solving, or are they a macrocosm? In fact, since problem solving is immaterial, they are neither! Solving a jigsaw puzzle is as close as we can come to literally building order out of chaos in the real world. Nowhere is there more complete order than in a completed jigsaw puzzle, and nowhere is there more complete chaos than in the jumble of pieces we begin with.

Many people begin with the edges of the jigsaw puzzle, in a bid to establish the context for the rest of the problem. Then they start looking for distinctive features that they can group together, to build islands of sense inside that context, while building in from the edge wherever it seems logical. Such is the way of order, that it builds from a seed. It's an intriguing process. Watching people work on jigsaws is fascinating. Anyone watching me, for example, would see a rather eccentric method. The edges do get built first, but then chunks start building out organically, as the box is shuffled through almost entirely randomly. How it works is not entirely clear, but the puzzle does eventually get solved. It's an accretion process in action, and highly non-linear.

As a fully functional, and only partly delusional, maths tutor you really have to work at your diagnostic techniques and not be afraid to step off the path of traditional teaching. A quick game of 'Forbidden Island' after a session can do wonders to see how someone's mind works and how confident they are, and an idea of how they do puzzles is just as important. Mathematics is fundamentally a puzzle, after all! Diagnostic tests can often be more fun than the teaching but you can deploy them very often.

Away from puzzles and the endless teaching, life continues much as usual here, with studies sharing time evenly with teaching and reading. It's a nice and happy medium, before the great year of visiting people comes fully into force. The visitations will occur...

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle. Don't get lost in the details, but keep your eye on the bigger picture.


Saturday, 7 January 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXIV

( Part XXIII , XXV )

A.K.A. 'Thoughts From A Peaceful Interlude'

"It was a material entity. It clearly had an impact on me and on the surroundings. Given that creations tend to always resemble their creator in some way, we can take this as a clear implication that our malefactor is material. This fact must be useful to us, but how? Given our Hippocratic oaths, we can never wilfully injure the creature unless, and only unless, our own lives are naturally jeopardised.

The being is material, and therefore subject to entropy. It must therefore feed itself to maintain its being. Its food source is therefore important, unless it is some ubiquitous substance all around us.

Question: Is the creature following its plans in order to survive, or in order to make merry and impose itself? If survival, then we could try to offer another way to survive, but the latter requires reasoning and perhaps even therapy. My two young friends seem to think it diabolical or irrational, so we will probably have to talk to the being. What, however, could we possibly offer to it in order to make a bargain? What?

However much fun it may have appeared, that umbrella duel was no idle play time. If not for a timely intervention, the consequences might have been severe. Its invisibility is far too terrible an advantage. How can we counter something that we can't see? That we --

We might not be able to see the creature, but that doesn't mean that we can never sense it. It has spoken to us directly. Its minion made its presence felt physically. The Pattern reacted to it, and it has been affecting the population either actively or passively. The entity can be detected; it can be sensed.  There is an experiment that we should try, that we must try before moving on to extreme measures.

My two students will be more invaluable now than ever before. If only we knew what that tablecloth was meant to convey!"

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Spooky January Nights

These January nights are spooky, filled with the dark-shrouded ghosts of Thursdays long gone. Are Thursdays more haunted than other nights? Is it due to a bizarre connection to the pizza chef strikes of three hundred years ago? Was there pizza three hundred years ago?

Contrary to the opinions of many of my students' parents, January seems rather a cheery month to this writer. The daylight begins to stretch out, no major events or plans need to be made, and nothing is looming. It's a very free month, and very liberating. It feels good. It's probably just another effect of the ghosts. They count amongst their number the shade of Bakus Jorgenson, who invented the moustache, and that of his wife Ixa, who invented the divorce. The two events may not have been entirely unrelated...

It's also a very nice month to get your reading done, with all those hours of darkness with nothing more to do. At the moment, after much procrastination, my reading has finally gotten back to Mark Twain's 'Joan Of Arc', and Freud's 'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious'. Even in translation, Freud was a great writer. Did he translate it himself, perhaps? No, I suspect some assistance was invoked, based on no provocation whatsoever. Despite being wonderful texts, I still somehow end up reading other books endlessly. 'Joan of Arc' is a legitimately wonderful novel, but the foreknowledge of her end is quite a deterrent to keeping on with the book, despite how well Twain manages the foreshadowing. We'll get to it eventually here at the QM, if I can just glue myself to the novel and not be distracted by other things... Like 'Conan' or 'Brigadier Gerard', or some mathematical proofs that need to be worked out for tutoring purposes.

The New Year jigsaw puzzle has been completed, which means it's time to... bring out more jigsaw puzzles. They are wonderful things to do, a beautiful evocation of order from chaos.

Jigsaw season continues... Jigsaws are wonderful... Jigsaws are the future...