April 29, 2007

I finished the Children of Húrin a week or so ago. It’s really quite good, as I said before (when I’d only gotten through the first five chapters). In fact, I already gave it to my oldest younger brother to read; he’s read the Silmarillion, and enjoyed it; hopefully he’ll end up as big a Tolkien fanatic as I am.

But I have one major complaint. My favorite quote from the Silmarillion version of the story was slightly altered. The book no longer says this line:

You have said, seek me in Dimbar. But I say, seek for me on Amon Rûdh! Else, this is our last farewell.
– Túrin Turambar, to Beleg Strongbow

That is about the most eloquent statement of willful stubbornness I have ever read. Why? Because the cadence of the line seems perfect to me.
You have said / seek me in Dimbar.
But I say, / seek for me on Amon Rûdh!
Else, / this is our last farewell.

The replacement line just doesn’t flow as well.

This example demonstrates very well my views on writing – above all, it must sound good. Each sentence must be able to be read out loud and give the feeling the line is supposed to communicate. All the other tricks of language – alliteration, rhyming, etc – as well as all literary devices – metaphor, simile, etc – are subordinate to this.

The Prophet Mani

April 23, 2007

I admit it: I’m a Manichaean.

Not actually, in any religious or philosophical sense (in fact, my patron saint is Thomas Aquinas, who abhorred the Manichaeans and did more to combat them than anyone other than perhaps Augustine). But many of my actions make a lot of sense when seen through the lens of “Túrin is a Manichaean”.

Now, the Manichaeans were dualists who believed in a spiritual God and a material, demonic “demiurge”. The spiritual is supposedly struggling to rise above the material world, which doesn’t really exist anyway, and be unified with God. The material world is an obstacle to holiness, and must be overcome. So, a Manichaean person would: look at the world in terms of ideas (though more as in Plato’s forms than in spiritual beings); see the material world as rather irrelevant; and see ideas as above people (this isn’t an explicit Manichaean idea, but does seem to me implicit in their beliefs).

I’ll use this lens to view my social actions of the past week. I went to prom because my Form Master insisted I had to go. It was… well, it was acceptable, about as good as those things normally are. But while I was there I started thinking that, I’m essentially never going to interact with these people after I graduate in May. (Especially the girls I know, since I won’t see them at class reunions or anything.)

So, all these interactions with people I am forced to undergo are rather meaningless. Why am I doing this? In fact, even if I was going to have to continue interacting with these people, who should I bother putting any effort into it at all? People don’t matter (claims the Manichaean). And you have better things to spend your time on (which is true, actually).

Which is why (claims the Manichaean) I didn’t go to Anti-Prom. I sort of regret that, because it probably wouldn’t have been sort of fun; the thing, is, why does it matter if I have fun? ‘Fun’ is fleeting. All that matters are the ideas – specifically, whatever ideas you can create. (Since ideas are the only things that last, the act of creative thought – writing, especially – is extremely important. And the aesthetics of the writing matter more than anything else.) Having fun distracts you from thought.

The problems with Manichaeism are, I believe, obvious. It makes little to no philosophical sense. However, as something believed in that determines ones course of action, it is very powerful, because it can order a person’s life such that they accomplish great things, and it can provide comfort to them when they confront the fact that they haven’t really enjoyed themselves as they do so. It is a temptation particular, I suspect, to intellectuals, especially those who aren’t particularly social in nature.

I’m thinking particularly here of Flannery O’Connor, who we’re studying in English now. Her short stories deal expressly with Manichaeism, and she quite clearly was tempted by it, though she was also quite clearly not taken in by it.

The Bats are Quiet…

April 21, 2007

What is going on with the Rangers? We’re two weeks into the season, and:

  • Michael Young is hitting .185
  • Mark Teixeira doesn’t yet have a home run
  • The Rangers as a team are hitting around .215 – 2nd worst in the league
  • 3 players are below .200
  • 5 players are between .200 and .250
  • 3 players are between .250 and .300,
  • Only 2 players are above .300 (Kinsler, who is the only Ranger hitting decently right now, and Stewart – who has only had nine at-bats!)
  • They were no-hit by the Chicago White Sox last week.

Traditionally it’s been the pitching that has been the problem for the Rangers, but it is quite clearly the hitting so far this year.

I’m particularly concerned about Michael Young. I have no doubt he will eventually come around and start hitting again – but when? Young’s one of my favorite players, and he needs to start producing to back up my high opinion of him.

[The pitching hasn’t been particularly good either, but it’s been better than the batting. The only pitcher I’m really concerned about is Brandon McCarthy, who so far hasn’t proven to me that he can pitch.]

The Children of Húrin

April 18, 2007

The Children of Húrin came out yesterday. Under normal circumstances, I would have sat down and immediately read through the entire book, but unfortunately Real Life(tm) intruded once more – I had an English paper due the next day, and I prefer being relatively awake during the school hours. So I wrote that first and actually got several hours of sleep. Consequently, I only got up through pg 86 (out of 259 not counting the appendices).

Still, I’ve seen enough to make a preliminary judgement on the essential features of the book. So, here goes.

The artwork is amazing. It does a very good job of capturing what Beleriand would have been like – the battlefields of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the towers of Thangorodrim, the halls of Menegroth. The only complaint I have about it is that the representation of the Dragon Helm of Dor-Lomin, though very cool-looking, doesn’t appear to have its characteristic dwarf-mask – or at least, the dwarf-mask doesn’t look at all like I imagined it.

The map in the back is irritatingly small. I prefer the one in the back of the Silmarillion – a 2×3 page foldout, instead of a 1×2 page one. Other than that, it’s essentially a simplified version of the one found in the Silmarillion.

The story so far contains much more detail than I ever knew existed about the early life of Túrin Turambar. Of course, I haven’t read the Histories of Middle Earth, only the Silmarillion. The story so far is quite well done (as expected). However, while it can be compelling at times (for example, Túrin’s conversations with Sador and the knife-gift episode), it occasionally seems closer to the rush-through-the-facts style of some parts of the Silmarillion than to the story-telling of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

This was also expected, since after all J.R.R. Tolkien never sat down and wrote a full-length book of the life of Túrin, but it is somewhat disappointing. And it is at times rather odd – not necessarily bad, but odd – how it switches narrative style so quickly.

Finally, as to whether people unfamiliar with the Silmarillion will enjoy reading this book… yes, but. It is a denser read than even LotR, and there is a 15 page introduction that essentially summarizes the background scenario, and reads much like the Silmarillion… but the fact remains that this is essentially a narrative tale, while the Silmarillion can seem at times like a history book. So for those of you who don’t enjoy reading history books (I do), it will be easier to read. And it is indeed worth the time spent reading.


April 11, 2007

The baseball season has begun! I’m going to my first Rangers game of the year tonight. (I went to an exhibition game two weeks ago, but that’s just not the same.) I might write later about why baseball is teh awesome, but for now, some random comments on baseball. These are really unrelated, not comprehensive, and not entirely serious, but I thought it would be fun to make a list of all of them…

About the Rangers in particular –

  • Yes, they started this season 0-3. But that’s not so bad. The Dallas Mavericks started this season 0-4, and now they’re guaranteed top seed in the playoffs. So the Rangers are guaranteed to win 60, maybe even 70 games. :P
  • I’m somewhat irritated that Kam Loe isn’t the 5th starter (instead he’s in the bullpen). He had an outstanding spring training, but they gave the spot to Jamey Wright, who really isn’t very good, and who is already old and not going to make anything of himself… but for the month of April, at least, Loe will do more good in the bullpen anyway.
  • I doubt Sammy Sosa will make much of himself this year. He’s old, been out of baseball for a year, and just won’t do much. I’m glad they gave Nelson Cruz the everyday RF spot, and that they’re going to switch between Wilkerson, Sosa and Catalanato for LF and DH. Let the old guys fight it out amongst themselves.
  • My favorite Rangers player is Michael Young, but he hasn’t had a great season so far (bear in mind it’s only been 8 games)… hopefully he’ll pick up the pace. Another 200+ hit season would be nice.

About baseball in general:

  • The Red Sox outspent the Yankees this offseason. Here’s hoping it doesn’t pay off for them, and they both wind up losing to the Blue Jays. Of course, that’s not gonna happen, but you can always hope.
  • Like everyone else, I’m predicting a Detroit world series win.
  • You know A-Rod, K-Rod, and the rest of those guys? Well, the new Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka doesn’t need one of those. He first name already works for that – Dice-K. The question is… what the hell does “dike-k” mean? It’s luck whether or not he strikes you out?


April 7, 2007

I am very happy – I scored well enough on the AMC12 and AIME to make the USAMO.

Of course, practically, this isn’t a very good thing. In essence, it means that I get to spend nine hours after school taking a mathematics competition when I could be home doing more productive things. And, while it is certainly impressive to have qualified for the USAMO, I somehow doubt it will be all that useful to put that on my résumé.

But it is still very cool to be able to qualify for such a contest, and perhaps – if I am either extremely lucky or much better at math than I thought I was – I will even be in the top six in the nation and make the American IMO team. I would get to go to Vietnam for a week.

Here’s a sample problem from the 2003 USAMO:

Given a sequence S1 of n+1 non-negative integers, a0, a1, … , an we derive another sequence S2 with terms b0, b1, … , bn, where bi is the number of terms preceding ai in S1 which are different from ai (so b0 = 0). Similarly, we derive S2 from S1 and so on. Show that if ai ≤ i for each i, then Sn = Sn+1.

The solution:

Note that the derived sequence bi also satisfies bi ≤ i (since there are only i terms preceding bi). We show that bi ≥ ai for each i. That is obvious if ai = 0. If ai = k > 0, then since each of the first k terms (a0, a1, … , ak-1) must be i ≥ k.

Next we show that if bi = ai, then further iterations do not change term i. If bi = ai = 0, then none of the terms before ai differ from 0, so all the terms before bi are also 0. But that means the corresponding terms of the next iteration must also all be 0. If bi = ai = k > 0, then since a0, a1, … , ak-1 all differ from ai, the remaining terms (if any) ak, ak+1, … , ai-1 must all be the same as ai. But that implies that each of bk, bk+1, … , bi-1 must also be k. Hence if the next iteration is c0, c1, … then ci = k also.

Now we use induction on k. Clearly term 0 is always 0. Considering the two cases, we see that term 1 does not change at iteration 1. So suppose that term i does not change at iteration i. If term i+1 does change at iteration i+1, then it must have changed at all previous iterations. So it must have started at 0 and increased by 1 at each iteration.

This will be an… interesting contest. Hopefully I’ll be able to answer at least one of the problems.


April 5, 2007

What the heck? It’s April already? March went by really fast. I guess that’s what happens when you’re out of town (or essentially out of town) eleven days in a month, only go to school fifteen days out of the thirty-one, and have half-days half of those days. (I haven’t had a weekend where I didn’t go out of town since… uhh, March 3rd.)

April is kind of going to have that same problem. This weekend (which starts today!) is Easter, so it’s not really a “normal” weekend even though I’m not doing anything; next weekend I go to Notre Dame for five days; the next weekend is my high school’s Prom. Since I never leave my house on weekdays, ever… I’m not really going to be able to go anywhere of my own volition until April 28th.

Basically, I currently seem to have little control over my “real life” (the non-computer one). It’s an unstoppable juggernaut hurtling forward towards graduation May 19th. The only choice I really have is where I go to college next year, and even that is already mostly decided.

Who does this remind me of in Wesnoth? I think – Alfhelm the Wise, who essentially has zero input on how his life progresses from the time of the prophecy to halfway into his march to Lavinium. He is manipulated or forced into doing everything he does.

So – April is Alfhelm month. I don’t have a portrait of him, but if I did it would look something like this:

Alfhelm, the LEGO Viking!

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