Friday, April 27, 2007

A Brief Mystery of Time

After the recent death of Kurt Vonnegut, my juices were stirred to a long-intended re-read of Slaughterhouse 5. It flowed a bit easier now I'm nearly grown up. It's one of those American novels of its time that doesn't actually talk about its main subject that much (the firebombing of Dresden in WWII) and rather uses it as the source for a stream of consciousness.

The aliens (of course, there had to be aliens), the Tralfamadorians, percieve Time as a contiguous lump, and have no concept of causality. I've been unable to confirm if this was SFs first use of such a device, though I suspect so. More recently it was used to good effect in the opening
Deep Space Nine story, I recall. It's a fascinating intellectual puzzle to follow, but of course ultimately it falls down, as must any 5-dimensional construct by a 4-dimensional creator. Any being not subject to cause and effect, and thus with no free will, could not communicate with us in any meaningful fashion, as communication itself demands linearity. So it goes.

Elsewhere - and you'll have to stay with me here - I was dipping into some reviews of Simon Schama's A History of Britain, and musing once more on the academic wrestling-match that goes on between the newer, iconoclastic "holistic" historians, and those who maintain the more traditional "Great Events Shaped By Great Men" approach; Schama being something of a hero to the latter breed, and thus having a target on his back. Being the son of a professional historian makes one a fraction more attuned to such political tomfoolery. So it goes.

Anyway, these two amorphous gobbets of mental sputum seemed to unexpectedly splat together when my attention was brought to a quote from Tolstoy's
War & Peace; which, I hastily add, lest you think me a wanderer of higher intellectual planes than I truly frequent, was quoted on the endpapers of Gregory Maguire's Wicked, to the joys of which (ha ha) I am a typical latecomer.

"In historical events, great men - so called - are but the labels that serve to give a name to an event, and like the labels, they have the last possible connection with the event itself. Every action of theirs, that seems to be an action of their own free will, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity." -Tolstoy

One has to be suspicious of timing this good. Hannibal Smith may have loved it when a plan comes together, but philosophical symphoria such as this perturbs me . If I wasn't such a rationalist, I'd swear something was trying to tell me something. Or something. So it goes.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


By Your Command Line...

"We don't allow people to walk around with live grenades in their pants, and we shouldn't allow people who don't understand math questions to get the answers."

I hope Mr. Sjöberg is mollified by the knowledge that it took four or five seperate clicks of my mouse to 'blog his article. And that I could have coded the HTML myself, had I needed to, honest.

Go on, link to this post for a laugh. It'll wind him up. In a nice way.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cosmonaught Percent Surcharge

Tourist handed an extra day in space for free | Science | Reuters

Okay, so a day in Space sounds like a fun freebie - but this one's "further purchases required" clause is a bit of a bitch...

Six coupons from "The Mirror", perhaps. Then we could talk.

Actually I'm bluffing. I never wanted to be an astronaut, even when I was a sci-fi kid. It's the single most insanely dangerous field of human endeavour, and I'm scared of crossing the road. Leave it to the experts. Or, failing that, the Americans.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Not Quite Yeti

Rob & Hev
Originally uploaded by Northtroll.
The thing about spending a holiday holding a camera (or two) is that one ends up with bugger-all proof that one was ever actually there.

So hurrah for our erstwhile host, Mr. Jan Johansen, and his brand new electromatic Talbot lightbox. Here we are in our decidedly UNnatural habitat. He was wearing shorts and chuckling at us. Smug git.

Transport of Sub-light

Stealth train uncloaks on Google Earth | The Register

Top marks for this. Very good indeed.

I can report that Tromsø's bus service operates similar technology. Cardiff Bus's #12/13 service is at the cutting edge of development in this field, and funding was increased this week with an 8% price increase, hot on the heels of last year's 14% hike. The price of commuting into central Cardiff has now risen by 62.5% in four years.

Anyone selling a 4x4?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Snowed Out

Postcard from the Edge
Originally uploaded by Brainless Angel.
Just look at that. Imagine being blasé about everyday scenes like this. I could never live here, if it meant forgetting how bloody stunning the place is!

It's our last night here and, sadly, the ionospheric climate has defeated us, colluding with the clouds to mean we don't get to see aurora. Oh well - snow is what we came for, and we've seen enough of that to last a lifetime; in H's case, several.

Having managed to stay on my feet for a week on icy roads and in thigh-deep snowdrifts, today I fell over twice. Nothing to show for it except a big blue bruise halfway up my ego.

Tomorrow we fly south, then spend all afternoon is Oslo airport. How this kind of thing was ever survivable in the days before GameBoys and iPods is, thankfully, something I have no need to recall.

So, Farvel, then,
You were, in every
Extremely cool.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Crinkley Bits

Håkøya Sunset
Originally uploaded by Brainless Angel.
We finally got to bond with some truly award-winning topography today. Our picture shows tonight's sunset behind Håkøya, but we've been beyond that horizon to a fairyland called Kaldfjord (lit. cold fjord) and the album swelled nicely. Go see.

There was time for pizza, and sweeties too. But still no aurora. They're hiding. Boo. I never thought that checking the Weather in Space would become a serious activity, but now we're reliant on this datasource for our one still lacking set-piece arctic experience.

Tomorrow there will be junk shopping and banana-flavoured spread on toast. And some snow, more than likely.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Monster's Graveyard

The Norwegian sun woke us early despite the whisky, and we climbed over the spine of the island to cross the water and get a cablecar up Tromsdaltinden. We timed our arrival perfectly between snowstorms and the spectacular views may be enjoyed on the flickr pages.

After a struggle with the Tromsø Easter bus timetable (or lack thereof) and a prolonged siesta, we crossed the water the other way, to Håkøya (Hawk Island), scene of the spectacular demise of the WW2 German battleship Tirpitz. In our photo, Jan and I stand before one of the awesome craters created by Barnes Wallis's 12,000lb Tallboy bombs. Two of these monsters hit Tirpitz on 12th November 1944, and 1000 Kriegsmarine sailors died.

The beach is marked only by a small memorial, made from a hunk of Tirpitz hull. Though the wreck was scrapped after the war, bits and pieces still litter the beach including some of the chains that fastened her to her mooring. It's an eerily peaceful place to visit, but it's hard not to attempt the impossible task of imagining the sights and sounds of that day.

Without Prejudice

No Deal Done With Iran - Blair

"...Tony Blair insists no deal was done to free 15 Royal Navy crew members."

It is perfectly healthy for reasonably well-informed adults - or 'cynics', as Mr. Blair's gang like to call us - to suspect shady goings-on in the return of the British servicemen held in Iran.

What is not reasonable is for the BBC to attempt to make our minds up for us with the pernicious use of pejorative language, such as 'insists'. The clear implication is that Blair's assertion is being made in the face of the evidence. So far no credible evidence exists that a deal was done. Blair is entitled to have his words reported with a neutral 'said', until such time as his trousers start to visibly smoulder.

Perhaps the Beeb feel that this is their only recourse of protest in the post-Hutton climate? Understandable, perhaps, but ultimately no excuse for acting like just another two-bit rag.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Auroring fire
Originally uploaded by Brainless Angel.
Tromsø has a fascinating underground road system. Its existence makes perfect sense for what is basically a mountain in the middle of the sea, but it's something to see for those from less extreme environments.

There is a whole network of roads, junctions and roundabouts in the stygian gloom, and driving through it you feel like a drone in some dystopian troglodyte futurescape. Scattered throughout are enormous parking hangars, which, although hewn from rock, are uneven and whitewashed so they look like ice. Unavoidably, my geeky hindbrain expects to see tauntauns and snowspeeders parked here.

Today we found the coldest beach I have ever walked along. Even the gulls were shivering.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Discovering snow

Cool Water
Originally uploaded by Brainless Angel.
It snows here. Lots.

Which is good, because it's what at least one of us came to see. For Heather, it's cryo-torture, but I'm like a pig in fluffy, white shit.

When the weather clears, we get views like this one. Ten minutes later, those mountains had disappeared. We drove over that bridge in zero visibility half an hour after I took the shot.

Today we learned a little about Sami culture via the Tromsø museum, and also about the Soviet POWs here during WWII. We also learned more about the insane cost of living in Norway - but a friendly optician fixed my knackered sunglasses free of charge, so I guess it evens out.

We put off today's planned cablecar ride on account of the capricious weather, so hopefully that's tomorrow's entry.

Northern Highlights

Bearded Lady
Originally uploaded by Brainless Angel.
Plenty to see and do in Norway.

This was one of the first friends we met, at the Polaria exhibition in Tromsø, where we are now staying courtesy of the inestimably generous Mr.Jan Johansen.

Tromsø is 200 miles inside the Arctic circle, and at 60,000-odd inhabitants, the biggest conurbation for 700 miles in any direction. It's over 1000 miles north of Oslo, where we spent a brief but luxurious day of Castles and waffles. Lots of snaps on the Flickr pages.

It started snowing with a vengeance this morning, so we're going out for a walk now. We may be some time...