Olli Toivanen's
How to know everything


Take up one's free time. Any books will do; also, lolcats do consume one's stray minutes. These few do recur: interest in weird, unusual, creepy and nonsensical things, Japan, anime and manga, Tolkien and Lovecraft, Internet-neepery and meme-appreciation, general amateur-level geekiness and computer-cruftery, science fanboyism, humor, and humor appreciation. Also beard growing.

Lately, since the spring of 2020, I'm also enjoying Vtubers — that is, livestreamers with anime avatars. Those I watch range from the obvious Hololive to smaller acts like Pikamee, Juniper Actias, Cimrai, Clara Slimeford, and ArtsyVRC; and many others. They are strange parasocial relationships: you feel like you're watching this person you sort of know, fooling around; and so are a few hundred others, and the person doesn't know any of you, except as an undifferentiated average mass called “the chat”. To say nothing of how the English-speaking audience of the Japanese Hololive streamers knows them mostly through unofficial translated clips, which serves to amplify or create their quirks; or how the Japanese streamers suffer from the limits of toxic Japanese idol culture and the whole distance pseudo-girlfriend thing. I wish some sociologist wrote a book about these things.

I don't care about pop music; I hear so little of it I actually like auto-tune. I aggressively avoid sport news; it's good exercise but not interesting entertainment. (Well, to me. Other people have no brainstemsdifferent tastes.) Also, American Gladiators, strongman contests, elimination shows with water obstacles and outrageous Japanese game shows: that's how you do sport for entertainment. But generally speaking I don't watch TV since I have Youtube and DVDs.

Also, erm, maybe I should get into those streaming services instead of DVDs. But I still have unwatched DVDs because Youtube.


If it is Japanese, I am 50% more likely to be interested in it. Does not matter what it is.

I speak enough Japanese to convince anyone with no knowledge of it that I do; I'm totally wakarimasen!

About Japanese history, customs, habits and the like I am interested, and usually find a weirdly great amount of happiness in; but you shouldn't take that to mean I actually have any deep or even moderate knowledge or understanding of them.

Not that Japan is some utopia; it's a country with great PR, whose quirks easily masks the downsides. Google karoshi, if you will. I wouldn't want to live or work there. (Also, the country somehow simultaneously produces the best romantic lesbian comics I've ever seen, and is terribly toxic towards both gay people and women.)

And about the obvious: anime and manga. I do love them, but there are so many and there is so little time. I got started with Ranma ½. I read anything: initially Bleach, Hikaru no Go and Fullmetal Alchemist, and then on to Tadokoro-san, Komi-san, Magic Knight Rayearth and Waita Uziga. (Er, don't google that at work.)

The best manga and anime ever, of all time, incidentally, are Azumanga Daioh; this is not up to negotiation.

If you need an anime recommendation, Asobi Asobase, Non Non Biyori and Daily Lives of High School Boys are hilarious.

Also, as the opinion of someone who came to it when thirty, be-bearded and jaded and male: Sailor Moon is excellently lovely. (This applies both to the original anime, and the new Crystal.)

Tolkien and Lovecraft

These two are my favorite authors.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings and did a lot of worldbuilding. Curiously enough, that was not worldbuilding as it's commonly done nowadays: I don't think we know how many elves there lived in Menegroth, or who exactly was included in the inner councils of Fëanor, or how many miles it is from Barad-Dûr to Orodruin; he was into myths, not statistics.

The History of Middle-Earth series: I have read it. Or I think I have. I've read most of the individual books, certainly; of most of them I don't have a clear memory. Happens when you space it over ten years; at the end of it you don't remember how well you read the first ones you had, and you're anyway pretty sure you were incapable of understanding them properly then anyway.

H.P. Lovecraft wrote horror stories where people go mad because the universe is not out to get them; the universe just wheels along right over them. I have read Joshi's two-volume Lovecraft biography, I am Providence; some parts were not entertaining (enough about Georgian steeples, HPL!), but the second-to-last chapter almost made me cry. He had such problems coping with the world, and did such an uneven job of it, so dying that way was just too cruel.

Also, I do know Lovecraft was a racist, and a stuck-up dickweed. The way to react to this isn't denial and making him into some sort of a Cthulhu idol, but learning how to be a fan of problematic things made by problematic people. (But if you don't like Lovecraft, or his work, that's fine by me.)

Also, I have the same problem of fanning a problematic thing with Tolkien. He was a very devoutly Catholic Christian who wanted that to show in his work (more as he grew older), he was very much against modernity, and he was writing in the vein of medieval texts, and that made a world whose natural laws are mainly classism, paternalism and xenophobia. To me the first two are defects of the man and his religion, and the third was a stylistic choice. All three are defects and problems of his work (to me anyway) that I just have to work, think and feel around. I love Middle-Earth, but it isn't perfect.

(On that third point, ie. the intrinsic xenophobia of Middle-Earth: one example, Orcs, full stop. A race of always evil and treacherous creatures that must be destroyed, literal creations of Satan; kill them and don't wonder about their children: does that sound familiar from any real-world discourse? Right-wing racists would give anything to live in Middle-Earth, where their fantasies are its natural law. Tolkien did not mean to do anything like that, and was famously anti-Hitler, but he brought in ancient models of the world. After his great success, they metastatized into unexamined cliches of fantasy literature for a century while the world moved on, and these days those cliches don't bear examination: it's not good if your supposed good guys sound like your immigration-critical racist uncle! Liking “classical” fantasy doesn't mean you're a racist, but it is a genre that is easy for racists to like. Defending it too virulently makes you look bad, too; at best, terribly ignorant or innocent (“It's made up, it doesn't connect to anything!”), and at worst a kind of an awful person.)

This whole Tolkienian worldbuilding thing is something that really interests me: making a whole new world is such an intoxicating mix of picking, mixing and creating: what are the implications of everyday magic? is something inevitable? why did you put those old defaults in? If you want some more thoughts on what worldbuilding actually is, and how (in my obviously correct opinion) it should be viewed, here you go: Notes on the World and Worldbuilding.

Also, Tolkien and Lovecraft: both people that thought the past was better than the present. That is just objectively wrong. The present is the best; with any luck, the future will be still better.

Nerd pride

Most of the other geek-nerd subjects are a go, too. SF/F, worldbuilding, lolcat appreciation, Linux (I'm a proud luser), e-readers and e-books, all kinds of stuff; if only the audience is small enough, I'm probably in it. If only it is the sort of thing that has intense intellectual detail in it… I've probably felt interest towards it, or soon will.

I recommend Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Lies of Locke Lamora, the books of Charles Stross, Doctor Who, and Babylon 5.

Humor / humour / hummor

So spelled for the Americans, the Brits, and those with bad spelling.

The world will either make you laugh, or it will make you cry. That's the world's way, and your only choice is between those two. I prefer laughing.

To keep laughing, to keep looking at the world with a crooked smile on my face, the following people are helpful: George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Dara O'Briain, Kiyohiko Azuma, Rumiko Takahashi, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Tom Smith, and Monty Python. If you see anything any of them has made, get it; your day will be made better.


I do maths; maths isn't a science, much less a natural science, but something like a game, or an art. As that art has plenty of nice applications in the real world, I tend to be a bit of a cheerleader for those people and causes that fight for a clearer view of the world as it is.

Which then means that if you take The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion, A Demon-Haunted World, How To Lie With Statistics, Reclaiming History and Misquoting Jesus, you won't find much that I disagree about, and you will find plenty that I rather care a lot about.

The world is pretty and breathtaking enough as it is, without gnomes in the garden and angels behind your chimney. Star furnaces burn in the billion-year-old skies, and have belched out the atoms that make you and me, and one day will be something entirely else, not disappearing until the slow yawning gulf of immense age grinds them apart; we are star-stuff and we are machines of accident in a vast cosmos with no imperatives save our own will; no religion or fantasy is as grand as reality, and reality happens to be real, too!

I'm no good with words; go google for a lecture by Neil deGrasse Tyson, or get a Richard Dawkins book or watch Cosmos by Carl Sagan (or the newer one by deGrasse Tyson) or the Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski; there are a lot of ways to enjoy the joy of understanding.