A lazy Reykjavik


Thu, 30 Jan 2003

A Warning.

My mother always told me that my sarcasm and caustic sense of humour would get me into trouble.

Regarding the preceding post: I’m not really railing against specific people here. It’s more of a rant against the general tendency with a lot of people in the blogoverse (to use a horrid word). People who think that there is no such thing as a casually browsing web user and that everybody’s looking for something specific.

It’s this kind of thinking that drives the World Wide Web Consortium into uselessness, for example.

The majority of people browse the web because they don’t feel like working and are killing time. Ignoring those users is fine, as long as you acknowledge their existence in the first place.

Pretending that the majority of web users are browsing with any sort of point or purpose is just a tad delusional.

Saying that the researchers, the users with a purpose, are the only ones you care about is fine. Your website, your call.

But randomly browsing the web is the 21st century worker’s version of going out to smoke a fag.

Now, if you want to flame me for bad grammar or for violating the English language you’d be perfectly justified in doing so.


Life Less Fun.

Dorothea Salo has been plonked recently for daring to criticise her betters.

The idea that weblogs are periodicals and that periodicals are referenced in most people’s minds by date first, keywords and such second, is obviously a delusion on par with thinking that the moon is made of cheese.

The idea that somebody might be only be mildly interested in these websites and want browse them casually (y’know, the way most people browse the web) by flipping through date based archives (either monthly or weekly, with well designed ‘next’ and ‘previous’ links), is about as likely as farm animals flying out of bodily orofices.

That the majority of readers belong to the general group who read weblogs as periodicals, are not doing research, don’t read it often enough to warrant a feed subscription, and refer to things posted within the last six months old by date rather than subject, is as real as the martians in Uncle Bjossi’s head.

That quite a few people would say: “That sounds like an article I read last week on Salon.com”

Rather than: “That sounds like the article on [insert keywords here] I read on Salon.com once.”

Sheer lunacy of course.

Casual readers, browsers, those who are not looking for anything specific, those who are not hardcore webloggers and are not focussed researchers, seem to consistently get forgotten in discussions on archives, data-mining and the so-called semantic web (the semantic web being something that talks to machines and eschews humans).

A weblog that you can’t browse casually via large chunk archives is like a library where you’re barred from entering and forces you to do everything via the librarian behind the desk.

Not being able to wander around, glance over things semi-randomly, taking in the smell and feel of the library…

Well, it simply takes the fun out of the thing.

Doesn’t make a difference if you are just looking for something specific. Doesn’t really make it less functional in any sort of meaningful way.

If anything, it might force people to be more professional in the way they reference and look for references.

It’s just less fun.

And we can’t have that, can we?


Chapter 4 of Gylfaginning from the Prose-Edda.

Gangleri asked: “What was the beginning, how did things begin, what was before?”

Tall answers: “As is said in Völuspá, the prophecy of the Volva:”

r var alda
a er ekki var,
vara sandur n sr
n svalar unnir;
jör fannst eigi
n upphiminn,
gap var Ginnunga,
en gras ekki.”

As the ages began
what is, was not,
no sand nor sea
or cooling waves;
no earth was found
or sky above,
emptiness was young,
and of grass was none.

Then Astall says: “Earlier, Niflheimur was made. Many ages before the creation of earth, and there in its middle lies a well named Hvergelmir. From there rivers flow so named:Svöl, Gunnþrá, Fjörm, Fimbulþul, Slíður og Hríð, Sylgur og Ylgur, Víð, Leiftur. Gjöll is the one closest to the gates of Hel.”

Then Third says: “First, though, was the world in the south named Múspell. It is bright and hot, burning with fire, impassable to strangers and those not native to the land. Surtur is the one so named who stands on Múspell’s border, guarding the land. His sword is flaming and as the world ends he will go out, make war against and triumph over the gods. And he will burn the whole world with fire. So is said in Völuspá:

Surtur fer sunnan
me svigalvi,
skn af sveri
sl valtva;
grjtbjörg gnata,
en gfur rata,
troa halir helveg,
en himinn klofna

Surtur comes from the south
wielding fire
The gods’ swords shine, like suns in the darkness

Mountains collapse into rubble
And fiends shall fall
Man walks the road to ruin
as the sky splits in two

More Translation Notes.

I’m having fun with this, obviously.

The main problem is with the names, trying to judge when to translate the names and when not to.

Icelandic names can be problematic this way. Most names, especially in the old myths have a literal meaning.

Óski and Ómi, for example, some of Odin’s names from chapter 3, mean Wish and Tone, respectively. My dad’s name, Bjarni, means Bear, while my mother’s name Bergljót, means Beautiful Mountain or rock.

Beautiful, in Old Norse, that is. After christianity, the meaning of the word ljótur changed to mean ugly as it had religious connotations connected in relation to the old faith.

The problem with translating these names is that in Icelandic the name function takes precedence. When you read a text where the names have obvious meanings, the names still function as names first, and the semantic meaning of the words fades into the background (still there of course, affecting the reading).

If you translate these name into English, the meaning of the words take over and the names are lost as names, become awkward metaphors.

It’s made even worse by the fact that some of the names are absolutely untranslatable, their meaning so vague and indistinct.

I decided to provide the original language versions of the poetry, accompanied by translations, rather than simply translating the verses into English prose, or worse, pretending to be a poet and translating them into poetry.

I’d like to hear what people think about that.

I’m very greatful for the online annotations of Völuspá available, unfortunately, only in Icelandic.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.