7QT: Magic, Secrets, and Bureaucracy

7QT: Magic, Secrets, and Bureaucracy October 30, 2015

— 1 —

I already love Ikea, source of all my bookshelves, but I particularly like their new line of plush toys, all designed to look like actual kids’ drawings.


There are more examples, all delightful, at this link.

— 2 —

Another example of glorious inventiveness: the Mahler Hammer.


I found this via Hello Tailor’s tumblr, where there are many more gifs of the Mahler Hammer being deployed and this explanation:

It’s even more awesome if you know the story behind it. See, the orchestral score doesn’t actually specify the use of a huge wooden mallet. In fact, it doesn’t specify any particular instrument at all: it just describes a completely hypothetical instrumental sound – “brief and mighty, but dull in resonance and with a non-metallic character (like the fall of an axe)” – and leaves it to the orchestra director to figure out how to actually produce it. Apart from the Big Fucking Mallet, past attempts have included custom-made bass drums, smacking a wooden crate with a sledgehammer, and dropping heavy objects onto the stage from a great height.

I don’t know if Mahler actually intended to troll entire generations of orchestras, but if he did, it totally worked.

— 3 —

And here’s one more thing I found delightful and through Hello Tailor


(Bwah hah hah… zeugma!)

— 4 —

Some secrets are a little more elaborate and more easily kept.  This longform piece on The Lattitude, a new secret society concieved of as a business that’s selling an unusual experience was fascinating:

This is what I can tell you.

One day, someone you trust will invite you someplace. Maybe for a drink at a local dive, maybe a stroll through a park, maybe a picnic in the cemetery. There, they’ll explain they belong to this club, or secret society, or maybe they’ll describe it as a cult, but say it with a faint glimmer of mockery in their eyes. They’ll litter cryptic phrases into the conversation—“people create experiences,” “automated rooms hidden through the city,” “no one’s going to jump out at you”—and while those will be too obscure to mean much, they’ll be enough for you to accept the invitation. How could you not?

They’ll reach into their pocket, remove the invitation, and extend it. It will be a white plastic card with a magnetic strip, a code, and a website. It will be in a black paper sleeve, a gold-emblazoned maze-like symbol on front and a statement including the words “ABSOLUTE DISCRETION” on back. These words will stick with you.

You’ll schedule an appointment. You’ll receive instructions about your upcoming visit, including an address and a time. You’ll have five minutes after your appointment to enter before the door locks for good. You’ll get there early, but will take care not to loiter, as per the instructions telling you to “not draw attention to yourself.” So, you’ll stroll around the block, maybe grab an apple from the nearby bodega, more likely sidle against a building and check your phone. And when the approved time comes, you’ll go to the entrance, swipe your card through the reader, hear the lock disengage, swiftly walk in, slam shut the door behind you, and stand in utter darkness.

— 5 —

The Lattitude ran into truble by trying to be both a mystery and a business, but the combination of magic and bureaucracy is a natural one, says Rob Boffard.

Writers who deal in magic systems use bureaucracy as a model because they want their spells and incantations to draw from something huge and unknowable. That’s what paperwork and forms are: the public face of a big, uncaring entity that will squash you like a bug and not even notice. Bureaucracy is dangerous – and there’s nothing writers like more than something big, amorphous and lethal.

Boring plot? Have the characters meddle in affairs they cannot comprehend. A misspoken spell that could cause the universe to turn itself inside out lends a certain je ne sais quoi to a story. It’s the hot sauce on the omelette of fantasy. It’s why HP Lovecraft is so popular when, really, he couldn’t write to save his fucking life.

Boffard namechecks Max Gladstone, who does magic+bureaucracy brilliantly in Three Parts Dead and the rest of his Craft Sequence.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Gladstone has a new Choose Your Own Adventure game out set in his world.  I’ve played through Choice of the Deathless: The City’s Thirst twice so far, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.  But I was frustrated that I felt like I couldn’t try out some of the backstabby options –the other characters felt too fleshed out to betray!


— 6 —

Meanwhile, in bureaucracy that feels magical, The Toast did a redesign and, when they unveiled the new site, also had an essay about how they rethought the way they used tags.  Trust me when I say I went “Ooooh!” while reading.

— 7 —

Meanwhile, the blogger at Seeking Omniscience took a crack at finding the natural categories of my site:

I scraped all of the data from Unequally Yoked on October 25th. I converted the text content of each post (excluding title, tags, and comments, and attempting to exclude the ideological Turing Test posts which largely consist of content from other people) into a bag of words, after stemming each word. I then got rid of every word that occured in more than 30% of the articles (as likely too generic to help cluster the data) or less than 0.75% of the articles (as likely too rare to help cluster the data.) Using each of the remaining words as a dimension, I then used the article-length-normalized frequency counts for each of the words in each post to locate each post as a point in the resulting vector space. I then performed k-means clustering on the points which remained, initializing with 30 clusters, and iterating through 2000 different initializations of Loyd’s algorithm so that the resulting clusters would be as compact and repeatable as they could reasonably be expected to be. End of methodological paragraph.

Clustering data, in theory, allows you to pick out groups of related things. So a good test of whether the above has had any success is to look at whether it has picked out as grouped any text that we’d naturally think of as grouped.

The results are chez lui, and I’ll add that, when you’re reading his timeseries charts, he’s marked my conversion announcement and my baptism as turning points, and I’ll add that the actual conversion was March 31/Apr 1 of that year.



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