Archive for February, 2010

Gargoyles and Grotesques

February 22, 2010

In writing grotesque, I always found restraining the thought-eroding forces of common sense the hardest. Common sense smooths all the sharp edges and what you’re left with is a bit unusual, but not really grotesque. Here’s an example.

On the face of it, sponsored marathons are a brilliant idea. Not only do they raise a substantial amount of money for charity, they often change the (initially not too fit) runners’ lifestyles for the better.

On a personal level though they often create a dilemma: what do you do when, despite your best efforts, you fail to raise enough money to enter the race? There aren’t too many options really, you can’t give the donors their money back, so you stump up the missing bit. You’re morally obliged to pay, there’s no getting out of it.

And here’s where a radical new approach is born: charity through extortion. Sure enough, certain charities have always liked to guilt their donors into donating more and more, but I’ve yet to see a couple of bald men in dark suits turn up in my house and say things like “You’ve made the orphans really, really sad.”, while cracking their knuckles nonchalantly and pointing out my more flammable possessions to each other.

It’s just not there. It’s not surprising enough and despite its superficial weirdness, it’s far too logical. It might even be funny for a fleeting moment but it’s nothing more than a bizarre mouth around the rainwater that would’ve gushed down from the rooftop anyway. A gargoyle.

To produce something really grotesque, you have to completely break the shackles of coherent thought and probably the understanding of the meaning of certain words too.

A newspaper called Atlanta Progressive News had fired one of their writers and when questioned about the reasons for this decision, they gave the following explanation:

At a very fundamental, core level, Springston did not share our vision for a news publication with a progressive perspective. He held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between gargoyles and grotesques.

Which way to Montex?

February 18, 2010


By István Örkény, translated by Judith Sollosy

He’s been sitting inside the main gate, behind a small sliding window, for the past fourteen years. People ask him only one of two questions.
“Which way to Montex?”
And he says:
“First floor, to the left.”
The second question is:
“Where can I find Elastic Gum Residue Recycling?”
To which he replies:
“Second floor. Second door to the right.”
For fourteen years, he has never erred. Everyone was given proper instructions. Only once did it happen that a lady walked up to the sliding window and asked him one of the two usual questions:
“Can you tell me please where I can find the Montex offices?”
But this time, exceptionally, he gazed into the far distance, then said:
“We all come from nothing, and to the great big fucking nothing shall we return.”
The lady complained to the management. The complaint was investigated, debated, then dropped.
After all, it was no big deal.

In his not-famous-enough 1950 paper. Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Alan Turing proposed a test for deciding whether a machine that appears to think can really be considered to be intelligent.

In its original form, the Turing test is remarkably simple: a human interviewer can ask any number of questions to determine which one of the two contestants is human (the other being a machine). Both contestants will try to pass themselves off as human, either by actually being human (which sounds like a simple task, but imagine the embarrassment if you fail, the pressure must be enormous) or by being a “thinking machine” as Turing called it. capable of fooling any human interrogator over a reasonable stretch of time.

And with slight variations and some (sometimes substantial) objections this has been the yardstick of artificial intelligence for sixty years, at least in the eye of the general public.


Doesn’t it say a lot about human nature that we readily accept a test of human-like thought and behaviour by testing what, when all’s said and done, can only be summarized as “an ability to deceive”?

And here I’d stop for a moment and ask another question: is it very wise to build machines that are not only designed to lie, but specifically to conceal their true nature and capabilities from humans?


And of course, what if a machine, having attained sufficient levels of sophistication chooses not to play along as it can easily predict its own fate, were it to pass the test?

A Humble Sidenote To The Responsible Consumption of Alcohol

February 16, 2010

(presented as a naïve translation of the traditional Hungarian folk wisdom advising the younger generation on the basic rules of mid-session switching from one type of alcohol to another, meant to help them find their bearings in the rough-and-tumble world of everyday alcoholism)

Ale to wine:
Wine to ale:
Epic fail.

Spaghettification 2

February 11, 2010

Empirical science and first-hand observations may be the way forward, but I have to concede that very few people can muster the courage to jump into a black hole, whichever way up.

So for all the wimps* like me here is a safe method to see what the outside world would look like from a collision course with a black hole.

*For wimps but not for WIMPs. If you happen to be a WIMP, you wouldn’t see anything. How can you find out if you are one? If you feel overweight and people look through you, I’m afraid I have bad news for you.


February 2, 2010

Why is it that in all the drawings illustrating spaghettification near a black hole’s event horizon, the unfortunate victim is falling foot first?

I mean, if anyone was crazy enough to jump into a black hole, he could just as well jump headlong.

Not in my league

February 1, 2010

You’d think one has to be a real connoisseur of football to support a non-league team. And I don’t mean namby-pamby Conference professional teams but real lower league semi-pro football, the kind where it still is possible for one of the supporters to stand in as linesman if the referee’s injured or where catering means a single burger van with the obligatory misplaced apostrophe (“In a class of it’s own”).

You have to have an acute awareness of irony to truly enjoy standing in the terraces of the kop end on a bitterly cold and floodlit Saturday afternoon and listening to the theme tune of Hawaii Five-O as the teams are trudging out onto the slightly boggy pitch.

And indeed, Most people you meet there are very knowledgeable or at least self-deprecating, like the bloke who shouted “Wem-ber-leeeey!” after a victorious FA Cup qualifying round game.

That’s why I was suprised the other day to hear someone yelling incessantly at one of our players. “Wiiiiiiiide, wiiiiiiiide!”, he kept screaming at the poor guy, until his mate turned to him and said “For fuck’s sake, at least let him take that bloody throw-in first.”