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17/10/2007

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Have I Found It?

Friday I went and drove a Mitsubishi VR4. A 1997 2.5 litre twin turbo V6 one. A wagon.

To start with, I had to get a lift with a guy from work. I couldn't drive there myself, because I've already sold my car to get the money to buy the new car with.

So I went with this guy called Nic. Now Nic is a car guy (he would have to be, otherwise why would he take off his lunchtime to go to help someone else test drive a car?). He is a hardcore car guy, he is rebuilding an Alfa sprint (welding up body panels etc) and owns a Gemini Rally car that he races at club events. He used to work for a rally driving school. I was becoming more and more concerned that Nic would regard my test driving as being totally wimpy and amaturish.

I had located a suitable car to drive, via the simple method of asking an importer:

Actually, what I really need is to actually see one of these things in real life. Know of any in the Sydney area?

Go to Edward Lee's on Parramatta Road - get Phil to show you the silver one I sent him. It should be sitting out the front of their yard.

Actually Phil had sold that car, but said he could arrange a drive at another dealer, so I got the lift off Nic and went down on Friday lunchtime.

(Note: I would not be buying off them, why buy from the dealer when I already have contact with the guy who supplies the dealer? Pay an extra $7000 for the pleasure of dealing with a used car dealer? And that's no exaggeration, the importer was asking for about $11k, the dealer wanted $18k.)

On the way there, I was thinking that it was a pity that it was dry, because if you are going to test a 4wd car with fancy Active Yaw Control and computer stability assist and ABS and ATC and... you would prefer it to be wet so that you didn't have to reach 120 km/h before any of those things activated...

So we got to the dealership, and had to wait around while the guy was looking for the trade plates and to get some paperwork. We were tormented by some try-hard junior dealer who was telling us how the Supra had a nice V6 and the Honda Civic Type R came with a turbo that was so smooth you barely noticed it was there. Moron.

Then the dealer loaded us into a Mitsu van, that actually came with full Lancer Evo engine and driveline, and that is vaguely interesting on that basis, but our drive to the other dealer revealed it to be a cheap, rattling, van, regardless of how great the mechanicals are in a car half the size. On the way, it started to spit a bit, and then rain. I was happy, this is what I wanted. Then it started to pour, and then absolutely BUCKET down. It was a full on torrent. I got worried that the drive might be called off, but it wasn't.

We pulled up at the second dealer. Oooops. This was a dealer that Ping had taken to Fair Trading. I was naturally a witness for the prosecution. This might get ugly. On the other hand, that was years ago, and they probably get taken to court and stuff all the time. So I just acted cool and nobody recognised me.

There was the car, a Legnum VR4, and it looked pretty schmick. Except the interior was old, ratty and non-leather (but I wouldn't be buying this particular car anyway, so that wasn't an issue). The fundamental interior design was pretty nice. It featured Japanese spec buttons and controls, which are both nicer and easier to use, and feel more robust and expensive than the buttons found in say... a 5 series BMW. However it didn't match the sheer feel of big dollar niceness that you find in the Lexus Soarer, Lexus Aristo/GS300, or Mazda Cosmo.

Also important was the vast cavernous space at the back, capable of taking all manner of fishtanks and furniture. The wheel arches are fairly intrusive, but there was a lot of nice detail like fold away inbuilt cargo nets, and skid pads that allowed cargo to slide in and out without contacting the rubber seals.

He started it up, took it around the corner, and we swapped seats. So I took off into the pouring rain. It was fairly quick. Not THAT fast, I STILL reckon my old 300zx went faster in the mid range (when on 18 psi and water injection). But it was much the same as the Twin Turbo 300z, the Twin Turbo RX7, and the Twin Turbo Soarer. (I have been thinking that the Soarer actually went harder on the initial launch, but as I write this I remembered that in the Soarer I was able to left foot brake, get up the revs and boost, and THEN launch. Naturally it was then a better launch than the other cars. Without a dealer in the car I could launch all these other cars (including the VR4) with a left foot brake as well.)

This was a 96-97 Auto, they are rated at 260 ps. The later models (that I would be getting) are rated at 280 ps, purely achieved via more boost and hence torque.

It is also much the same as the BMW 540i V8 and the 350Z. So the smaller turbo motors are a fair match for the bigger naturally aspirated ones. All these cars are rated at doing 0-100 in 6 ish seconds.

Of course, all those cars were test driven in the dry. This, as I've said, was not. To the point that there was centimetres of water covering the road. And that brings up the major point of this car: grip.

I would have to play very hard with the car, in the wet, if not mud, without the dealer in the car, and somewhere with big, safe, run-off areas before I got close to finding the limits of this car's tenacious supergluing to the road.

Of course there was one car I've driven that DID match this car... the Audi S4. Though I don't think the S4 had the straight line thrust that this thing did. (On paper, the S4 is both heavier and has less power, so that makes sense.) In many ways this is an exact copy of the S4. It's a 2 1/2 litre twin turbo V6. It is constant 4wd, a nice, luxurious interior, even available as a wagon. The differences are that the Audi had nicer steering, and less acceleration.

I think the steering in the VR4 was just too light. This is in common with all the other Jap cars (except the RX7, to some extent) and is probably fixable by reducing the power assistance. Reducing power assistance has been done in a Lexus LS400, and is apparently both simple and effective in giving better feel.

Other than that... it doesn't LOOK as good as the RX7, or the 300zx, or the MR2, Soarer 2.5GT, Supra 3.0RZ....

It also has the critically important feature that the name consists of 2 letters and a number. Only the S4 fails this test, and that is why you would buy the RS4.

And I didn't pay attention, but Nic claims it definitely SOUNDS as good.

The dealer lived up to their reputation. Both insisting that the car had a 3 litre engine, even when we corrected him, and then concocting some story about how I had to put a deposit on the car today, (the better condition car he was importing next week) because once it was in the country it would go up by $3000. He kept using the expression "a lazy couple of hundred dollars" as though calling the money "lazy" would make me less worried that it might go walkabout once I'd handed it over.

I stood outside in the rain until the dealer backed off (he didn't really want to get wet) and let us walk away without having to be aggressive about it. (I don't want another dealership I can't go into.)

On the way home, Nic said that he was horrified by how hard I had thrashed the car with the dealer right in it, he would never have thought you could get away with that. This inspired him however, he went out and thrashed a FTO on a test drive the next day.

So...

Advantages:

Disadvantages:

  • Interior not up to Lexus or Cosmo standards
  • Driving environment (noise, vibration and harshness) not up to Lexus standards, though pretty close to Five Series BMW.
  • Looks
  • Engine not capable of being taken as far as the hot toyota engines (which are regularly built to 6 or 700 hp with just bolt on goodies (turbos/intercoolers/piping/exhaust). However it will respond as per normal up to about 400hp, which is the point of diminishing returns cost wise anyway. I seriously doubt I'd ever go beyond that point, given my history with the old Nissan.
  • No RWD style challenging driving.
  • Mitsubishi doesn't have the quality reputation of Toyota, Subaru or Nissan.
  • 16/10/2007

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    The Attractions of Old British Cars

    I saw a Jaguar having trouble yesterday.

    It pulled over to the side of the road, smoke started to appear, the next thing I know flames were leaping up to half a metre high from under the bonnet.

    The fire engine turned up 5 minutes later, but I reckon that would have been about 4 minutes 45 seconds too late.

    10/10/2007

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    I'd Blame this on a perverted imagination...

    But everyone else seems to get it too.

    It's the logo for a company called A-Style

    04/10/2007

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    Sometimes, I do come up with a good, witty, off-the-cuff comeback to a difficult question.

    Conversation with my wife last night, as I was hauling boxes around a loading dock in the dark.

    * Nake: verb. Current tense of naked.

    ** Translation from Mandarin Chinese: Sexy bottom

    *** Of course

    The SECRET

    So my boss was training for the National Championships of some mixed martial art competition. And he decided that he would do better in a lower weight division, so he had one week to lose 2 kg.

    It took him 2 days. The reason is, he knows the SECRET. There is a hidden, untold method of losing weight that works very well, is very easy, and is extremely quick.

    However, it is secret, and if I dared place it in an open forum then I could risk offending a multibillion dollar weightloss industry and many multinational corporations. And you don't want Jenny Craig coming after you, she is viscious.

    Hence I shall reveal the secret but in such a way that only the net elite will be able to read it:

    He stopped eating, and when he reached his target weight, he made sure he didn't eat too much.

    That's it, I've risked enough as it is.

    My boss got a bronze medal by the way, so he is number three in the country at beating the crap out of people. Always comforting to know.

    25/09/2007

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    Plates

    The Lexus GS300 and its even more desirable cousins the GS430 and GS450h are top of the line, luxury performance vehicles. So it makes perfect sense that someone would get a licence plate LEXI-GS.

    It makes less sense that they would stick it on their BMW X5.

    20/09/2007

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    So I was given this bike

    Being known as a bike person means, amoung other things, that people give you bike stuff all the time. People are always getting extra, spare, unwanted bike stuff, and give it away to other people who are into bikes.

    Not that I really am a bike person, but I can fool people for up to a minute in casual conversation, which is usually long after they've stopped talking about something as dull as bikes.

    Anyway, this guy at work has a wife, who has recently purchased a new bike, and asked me if I wanted the old one. The only problem being that the wheel bearings were shot at the front, and the seat post was stuck in the lowest postion.

    That sounded easy enough, but in the three weeks since, I've not been able to move that seat post one mm. At first I used a big wrench, but that just got the seat mounting to turn, not to move up. (And it needed a big pipe on the wrench to get that. It was a PVC pipe but still.)

    Then I made a tool that bolted to the seat mount, and let me apply large forces up while twisting. This eventually saw movement, and I pulled the seat mounting right off the seat post, which was still stuck inside the frame at the lowest postion.

    My current plan is to get a new seat tube (ie. an aluminium tube) and mount that INSIDE the existing seat tube.

    Developing...

    18/09/2007

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    How to make someone look like an illiterate moron

    There is a car that parks next to my wife's shop. The bumper sticker says "IF IT'S TOO LOUD, YOUR TOO OLD".

    I'll bet the driver doesn't ever realize what a horrible joke has been played on him.

    14/09/2007

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    My Working Week in 5 Words or Less

    Not Enough giant monkeys.

    10/09/2007

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    My Weekend in 5 Words or Less

    Too many giant monkeys.

    05/09/2007

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    Living With a BMW

    Now that I've sold my Lexus, I've planned to buy something better.... but my wife appears to have spent all the money opening up a new shop. Leaving me riding my bicycle and spending more time in her BMW 530i.

    Anyway, I've spent a fair amount of time discovering all the little reasons people pay $140 000 for these things. And almost every time I find something new... it is nice.

    Not EVERYTHING is good though

    27/08/2007

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    Stupid Cliches, Part 2

    Not that there was a part one, but I have mentioned them before.

    What brought this to mind again was "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut".

    Anyone who uses this expression negatively, has never used a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Sledgys are GREAT at cracking nuts.

    Sure it is just a metaphor... but I think you'll find that most if not all those points apply metaphorically too.

    Which Leads Us to Ice-Picks

    Once of the good things, actually the only good thing, about the "Basic Instinct" movie is that I finally found out what Americans mean when they use the word "icepick". It turns out that it's a tiny little spike like a small screwdriver.

    I had always thought that when foreign murder mysteries and the like had someone stabbed with an icepick, that they were using one of these, used for climbing glaciers and such.

    I wondered why so many people had them in their lounge rooms, but Europe and America always has such dreadful weather than I supposed you sometimes needed it.

    As for the screwdriver things, I can't see the point of that. Ice breaks when you just hit it with your hand anyway.

    16/08/2007

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    Matrix Theology

    First of all, I shan't bother with explaining the basic theory. It's done in fine detail here and commented on here.

    I personally don't accept it, but it's a great basis for thought experiments, so I'll go with it for the purposes of this post.

    Let's accept that it is possible that we are in a simulation, this leads us to ask what is the purpose of the simulation? Simulators are what-if machines. Excepting the (low probability, and more importantly dull) control group (which is designed to replicate the original to ensure that you are getting the same answer when you DON'T change anything.)

    Otherwise, what question is being asked? In what way is the simulation different from the original?

    This could be very subtle, it could be a butterfly effect type change, like altering the gravitational constant by 1/googleplex or (in a more local, less basic tweak) change the size of a continent slightly, change visible constellations.... in other words, something we could never guess.

    Rejecting these possibilities as unguessable, and hence boring, what contingencies would I fool with to see how history changed. This is (I imagine) part of an overall scheme to gain divergent views, pissibly even divergent technologies, that would be useful to the insigator of the simulation.

    How Far Back?

    Another question is: How far back was the simulation started?

    If we are simulating the whole universe, then variables like the gravitational constants would be of interest.

    If we are simulating the history of life on Earth, then changes like different continents would be of interest.

    Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel argues that the long East-West axis of Eurasia determined its greater technological development compared to Subsaharan Africa, Australia and the Americas. Well that would be worth playing with.

    It's also been argued that our two great heavenly bodies (Sun and Moon for those falling behind) which are of near identical visual size, have lead to much of our religion, philosophy and habits of though (eg. Duality). Clearly another area for experimentation.

    Even just looking at recorded history, there are many what-ifs of contingency.

    Bloody Bike.... Pedals

    I finally broke one of the cable ties when I rode straight into a roadwork sign. I'll just replace it.

    15/08/2007

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    Unemployment?

    I know that the official unemployment rate is at 35 year lows of 4.6%, but honestly, I think that is overstating the problem.

    These two guys walked into my wife's shop and offered to change the burnt out light bulbs. For $10 each. Once she worked out how much trouble and expense it would be for her to take time off from the shop to go and buy new bulbs, and get a ladder, and change them over (which would probably mean me or a male employee doing it), well she was happy to pay them.

    They had a ladder and a box of new bulbs, so they changed 8 bulbs in 30 minutes. Assuming they bought the bulbs in bulk from Bunnings or somewhere, they probably made something like $30/hour each. They spent the whold day going from shop to shop, with every 3rd shop or so giving them business.

    Their equipment is a ladder and a box of bulbs. It probably cost them $100 to set up that business. And they are getting a moderately good pay out of it.

    What are the people without jobs doing?

    A Good Day

    As far as I'm concerned, I finally sold my old car, and so now am on the prowl for something with lots of turbochargers.

    07/08/2007

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    A conversation over Pizza

    Wife's New Employee I need to eat more of this pizza, I need to put on some muscle.

    Me .....

    Wife's New Employee When I go to the beach, I'm embarrassed to take my shirt off, there are so many muscle men there.

    Me You don't build muscle by eating pizza.

    Wife's New Employee So you don't consider pizza to be health food?

    Me .....

    Me Not really.

    Me Ummm... what do you normally eat?

    Wife's New Employee Chips and Coke. Whereas Pizza has meat and vegetables in it.

    Me And dairy I suppose.

    One hour later...

    We were cleaning the floor of a shop, and I got some Jiff cleaning fluid, spread it on some dirty tiles, and scrubbed it off with a mop. The dirt came off. Good.

    I told the assistant (Sam) to clean all the dirty patches, and left to get some keys cut.

    I came back 20 minutes later to find the floor 3 cm deep in water, and Sam trying to use the mop as a broom. It seems he didn't understand the "mop" technology, and didn't know about how to squeeze the water out into a bucket.

    After 30 minutes of work we got rid of the water (he needed the mop thing explained a couple of times) and then I could see that all the dirty patches were still on the floor. All the water had washed off the detergent without the scrubbing to take the dirt off too. So I showed him again: Cleaner on the stains, scrub it with the mop, dirt comes off. This time I stuck around to make sure that he understood the complicated procedure.

    01/08/2007

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    Bloody Bike Tyres: Part 3

    Just below I mentioned that I had bought some tyres but they disappeared enroute from the Ebay seller.

    Well the seller got back to me "Aus Post has lost all our items sent on the same date as yours. We are sorting this out with Aus Post as we speak but will shall resend you your item tomorrow at our expense."

    So that is plus ten points for the ebay seller (BikeBits01), and minus 500 for Australia Post. Sooner we privatize those guys and sell them off to North Korea the better.

    No I don't just want to send AustraliaPost employees to the North Korean Foreign Guest Workers and Protein Sources Happy Time Camp because of them losing one parcel of bike tyres (and the occasional bank statement, and my rates notice, and $20 million that I was expecting from Nigeria, and who knows what else that I didn't notice...) but because of what happened when I tried to ask them about it.

    No, you can't ring them up and ask if there is a parcel waiting for you. You have to physically go down, during work hours, and show ID, to even find out if you have anything to pick up. I can see the point of ID to pick up your parcel, but this was just to find out if I had one waiting. And it took three phone calls to even find this out. Soylent Happy Time Green Camp for the lot of them I reckon.

    17/07/2007

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    Bloody Bike Tyres: Part 2

    So I bought a set of high performance road tyres on Ebay... and they never turned up. Developing....

    Meanwhile

    I got a set of new Road & Track tyres (plus 7 inner tubes) for $5 from some guy who was selling off his whole house contents. Road & Track is better than pure track for my use, so I put these on the bike. These tyres have a slick section in the middle for road use, and knobbly tread on the sides for when the slicks sink into the mud. But on the road they should be similar to normal road tyres. I didn't really notice much of a difference today though, but it could have been because of the...

    Cold

    I was riding to work today through ICE. Actual, frozen water type ice. This is freaky to a guy from North Queensland, where ice is only ever seen in the context of freezers or drinks.

    Once I got to work, I thawed my fingers and went and got some gloves.

    Once again, I found a repeat of the vest mystery. What's with all the gloves with no fingers? I cannot think of a reason to wear gloves (cold, heat, sharp things, toxic chemicals) where your fingers are not MOST at risk. So why make gloves without fingers?

    26/06/2007

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    Bloody Bike Tyres

    After the flat front tyre yesterday morning, it didn't please me to have the rear tyre go on the way home. And this was a special, no puncture tube that is supposed to be self sealing. No it isn't.

    Though it is possible that it might have self sealed if it was dry. Instead of being in thick mud. I suppose I could have changed the tyre, in the dark and wet. I do carry a spare tube. But instead I was only 4 km from home so I picked up the bike and carried it home (the tyre was off the rim so you couldn't even roll it.)

    Vests

    All this biking around in the cold and wet got me thinking: What's with vests?

    When you are cold, it is the extremities that are cold. The hands and feet, then the arms and legs, ears and nose. You never get a cold stomach or back, at least not while still having warm arms. So what on earth is the point of a vest?

    25/06/2007

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    Creating Customers

    I just noticed a scooter shop, that offered free lessons to any purchaser that was on Learner plates for their bike licence.

    How clever! For the cost of maybe several hours, you not only get a multithousand dollar sale, but you get a confirmed customer who will probably buy another one in a few years when it comes time to upgrade.

    An exhausting weekend

    I noticed the scooter shop as I was riding my bike from the city to work this morning.

    This was the end to a weekend that saw me load and unload 6 cubic metres of fishtanks from a rental ute 4 times, navigate through thick fog to a warf that I've never been to, and be a stand up salesman, something I've never been good at.

    See, now that we had a full selection of fish tanks (see here, my lovely wife had managed in two days to sign herself up to a trade show. This was in the city at some warf, so this meant we had to load up a good selection of goods, take them in and set up a stall.

    Naturally they wouldn't fit in a car, so I had to rent a ute, and with 2 days notice the closest ute I could find was in the city, a good 50 km or so from home.

    SO....

    Why didn't we need to sit down? Because as we were still setting up the first customers walked by, the daughter looked at the custom tanks and made the sound that every retailer wants to hear: "Ohhhh! Isn't it cuuuuuuuuuute!"

    They bought two.

    That day we sold 35 tanks, which is about one every 10 minutes. If you add in the people who didn't actually buy, well we never, ever got a chance to sit down until there was plenty of space available.

    Somehow we still had a whole load of boxes to take home, so after the show I had to load up the ute again, and drive home, and unload again, finally finishing up at 9.30. At which point I went straight to sleep.

    Only to have to wake up again at 7 to return the ute to the city, (through Monday morning traffic and rain), then pull my bike out of the back and ride the 25 km to work, through the rain, but luckily only getting one flat tyre.

    The First Real Sign We are living in the 21st Century

    Construction of a new spaceship is now reported in the Travel and Leisure section of the Sydney Morning Herald, rather than science and technology.

    22/06/2007

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    On Accidentally Breaking Things

    Yesterday morning I woke up, and went to do a set of squats. This is a new heavy cycle and so I was pushing for a personal best.

    Halfway through, the bar suddenly bent to a 90 angle.

    As is usual for a sudden physical shock, I had more than one thought running through my head at once. I represent this as a thought matrix, where each line is to be read simultaneously:

    What I actually found was that all the weights stayed in place, and I could keep squatting. What I found really strange was that it seemed much easier to start moving from the bottom now (because I wasn't going as low, because the weights were touching the ground (these were hack-squats)), but much harder to lock out at the top. I have no explanation for the lockout being more difficult.

    Good thing I've already got a much stronger bar sitting under the house. Well a crowbar, but there is nothing stopping me from using it.

    Actually, rereading what I just wrote, I think I do have an explanation: Because it was easier at the bottom of the movement, I could keep going for a lot more reps than otherwise. So that's why I found it harder at the top.

    Now that my legs were exhausted

    I got home from work and went out to a restaurant. Then my wife got a phone call saying that a 20 foot container had been delivered, to our house. At 10 pm. And that the neighbours (uptight noise fanatics, except when they are having a party) had already called the police.

    So, me and three other guys had to unload a shipping container of glass fishtanks, by hand, so that the container could be taken away again and the noisy truck and illegally placed container would be gone by the time the cops turned up.

    We managed it in an hour, and merely had a driveway covered with cardboard boxes when the cops showed. It was interesting to note how some boxes that required two people to carry when we started, by the time we were starting to panic we were carrying two each.

    Like most cops I've dealt with, these were perfectly reasonable people, and when we said, the truck is gone, the container is gone, there is no noise now.... well they said that was good enough for them and went away.

    Then we had to pack all the containers away under the house, before the rain started again and soaked everything, finally finishing up at 12.45.

    I slept fairly well after that.

    18/06/2007

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    Earworms

    If there is one thing worse that having a stupid, soppy love song stuck in your head, it's having one that is in a different language that you don't really understand, so you can't even sing along. And the words running through my head are just my mispronounciations of the real words, and I don't know what it means, and.... arrgh!

    Speaking of Arrgh

    I saw a shirt the other day that summed it up well: Pirate is the New Ninja

    And then there was the quote on bash.org:

    08/06/2007

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    I Appreciate the Effort... But Eeewww!

    Back in the old days, it used to be the fashion for soppy girls and the like to write SWLK on the outside of letters to their boyfriends. This stood for Sealed With a Loving Kiss.

    This is the postmark that all my letters have on them these days:

    31/05/2007

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    On Starting Out With Good Stuff

    This article explains just one of the reasons that I think you should ignore everyone's advice and NOT buy the best equipment/tools/whatever. You should instead buy, at first, a cheap bit of garbage, second hand, that will only last for a year or so.

    THEN, once you have used it for a year, you will know much, much better, what you should actually buy.

    Other reasons to try the cheap and shoddy before you buy a good one:

    Every Rose Has a Thorn

    Which is why I prefer lillies, hibiscus, even tulips.

    (Of course tulips have been known to destroy the once rich and powerful nation of Holland, but then so has the ocean, and everyone likes that.)

    Cold This Morning

    I'm just wondering if, when riding my bike to work, having my fingers too cold to change gears, (so that I have to use the heel of my hand), is a bad thing?

    28/05/2007

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    That Word You Keep Using: I Don't Think It Means What You Think It Means

    Have you ever noticed that sometimes people say the opposite of what they probably mean?

    Farmers and other working class types are often praised as being Salt of the Earth: As everyone knows, salt in earth results in vegetation being killed off, farms turning into deserts, and economic collapse. This might be an accurate description of the farmers, but is that what is meant?

    I could care less. American's particularly use this, to mean I could NOT care less. Call me picky, but leaving a not out of the sentence seems important to me.

    Slept like a baby That would be crying, waking every hour screaming, and wetting the bed.

    15/05/2007

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    Observations While Riding: Telstra Bigpond Ad

    I saw some surprising truth in advertising on the side of a Telstra van today.

    There was a big ad for their "Bigpond" broadband service, showing pictures of pretty women in flimsy dresses that were about to fall off.

    Now everyone knows that one of the main applications of broadband is to show pictures of pretty women in flimsy dresses that were about to fall off, or perhaps have already fallen off. But you don't expect Telstra to be using this in their ads.

    Next they'll be showing a picture of a pretty women that was half downloaded, and then the connection dropped out.

    Observations While Riding: Toyota Plus

    I was going home in the evening and saw a Toyota Hilux Ute go by... nothing strange, they are about the 2nd or 3rd most common vehicle in Australia.

    This one had a jet engine mounted in the tray. And it was a home made jet engine. Constructed from a big turbo charger.

    Sadly, he was only using the standard engine at the time.

    Observations While Riding: Cool Plate

    Seen on a MR2 Turbo sports car: MR2QIK

    A licence plate that has more than one, relevant, meaning is a good effort.

    08/05/2007

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    More Bike Tech

    As explained below, I'd figured that I needed to increase my seat height. 15 mm was a slight improvement, 40 mm seemed better still. With the only issue being I now can't stop without falling off.

    More technically, I was becoming interested in how all the serious riders tend to stick their feet to their pedals, so they can pull up as well as push down when they pedal.

    This site was going on about them, how they make pedalling feel like you are one gear lower etc. They didn't explain why the "clipless" approach has clips, but that is a simple story (you can't SEE the clips on a "clipless" design, they are built into special cycling shoes. The old "clip" design was fully visible.)

    Of course, this site was trying to sell me a clipless system at $320, so they weren't exactly unbiased.

    So I did what any engineer would do when debating the merits of such a system. I cable tied my feet to the pedals and went for a 20 km ride.

    NB: I didn't just strap my feet permanently to the pedals. There is some subtlety involved so that you can stop without killing yourself.

    Results: Well I reached the top of the long hill on the way back home in 4th gear. My previous best has been to make it in 3rd, so that looks like " feel like you are one gear lower" to me. However I think I'll go for the strap approach rather than buy a $100 pair of special cycling shoes with inbuilt clips that you can't walk in, so you need to carry normal shoes with you, which makes a mockery of the saving weight thing.

    In fact, I know perfectly well that I'm not going to do a thing until the cable ties break, because they're working fine right now. And knowing cable ties that might be a very long time.

    Conspiracy Theory

    Strange that there is no conspiracy theory about the death of Mike Mentzer. After all it has all the ingredients:

    I just guess that his followers don't like to draw attention to his death. Like the early death of Bruce Lee, and the heart attacks of Arnold Swazzenager, it just reminds everyone that heavy use of steroids will catch up to you.

    04/05/2007

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    At last: Another Road Test

    This one was a classic. An original series 1 MX5. Slightly modified, with a more open exhaust, and slightly lower, slightly stiffer suspension. But basically as designed.

    Overall impression: Exactly what I expected, except the steering wasn't anything special. It wasn't anything bad either, but I would put it on a par with the BMW 530i, which is a little disappointing comparing a luxury car to a full on sports car.

    Being an old car with a fair few km on it, it was loud and rattley, at least compared to my usual rides, but nothing objectionable.

    The handling was OK. I didn't take it hard enough to get any serious slip angles on the tyres (mostly) but it seemed very neutral and controlled. As expected.

    In summary, a nice sports car, but I didn't fall in love or anything.

    03/05/2007

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    Feedback

    A few comments on your blog

    - words that can mean their opposite are called contronyms or antagonyms. A few others are 'moot', 'let' (as in 'let or hindrance'), ravel. See http://www-personal.umich.edu/~cellis/antagonym.html for more (though I'd argue with some of them).

    Also here

    - skiamorph 1 - p.s. is still useful - eg if doing a single-draft email & think of something at the end but couldn't be arsed going back & editing the email. Ditto a handwritten fax coversheet or note. There's still plenty of handwritten stuff around, boyo!

    But that's not where I've been seeing them. I've been noticing them in mass printed pamphlets and the like.

    That definitely fits the skiamorph idea (for some reason I keep thinking of a shape-changing bird...)

    Wouldn't that be a Kea-morph?

    Or a skuamorph.

    - skiamorph 3 - hierarchical orgs were popular before the world wars - they were promoted in the 19th as an antidote to nepotistic family businesses, but of course they've been around since the earliest empires.

    It was the 20th century when the vast majority of a (working) population were involved, though to a significant extent that was technological in nature. Before telecomunications (1840s) and mass transit (1840s) they couldn't be organised, before motorized farming (1920s) they couldn't be fed.

    The Romans did an okay job of it, with their armies, at least in the dominions they kept for a few centuries. Isn't it said that strengthening of the bureaucracy was one of Claudius' distinct contributions?

    I think that was my original point. Successful armies are bureaucratic and hierarchical (because that works best under conditions of panic and total confusion i.e.. war) The more militarized a country (modern Korea, 1890s Germany, mid 20th century everywhere) the more that method of organisation will spread to all sorts of places where it isn't necessarily the best choice (Academia).

    :-(

    However even then, until modern times, you still needed vast amounts of independent farms to provide the food, with 80 to 95% of the population doing the farming. (Individual farms could be hierarchical slave run plantations, but the farms themselves were never really organised, there just wasn't the transport or communications.)

    - skiamorph 5 - you can get square dinner sets - just go to Target. They're usually vaguely oriental in design -- is that because Japanese people were the first to manuracture square/rectangle plates on a large scale? But your point seems to hold with posh porcelain settings -- though maybe round plates are necessary for strength with porcelain? Or perhaps they're still made by hand??

    It's true that the presence of corners does reduce the strength (and I'm kicking myself for not realizing that)

    teehee!

    but many of the decorative flourishes in common designs cause far greater weaknesses than a single square would.

    What sort of designs?

    Scalloped edges. Flower patterns.

    - What makes you think over-the-top zombie movie is an oxymoron? they're not contradictory terms. Tautology, yes.

    Is it really possible for something to be over the top GIVEN that it is a zombie movie?

    Do you mean NOT over the top (given what you say below)?

    No. I mean, by the standard expected of a zombie movie, can you have an OTT zombie move. No matter what you did, wouldn't that still be considered par for the course given that it is a Zombie movie, and having a reanimated William Shakespeare giving the "Alas poor Yorik" speech while holding his own skull just wouldn't seem out of place.

    I mean the whole thing about Zombies is that they are the most ridiculous, over the top, sort of movie monster ever. (Contradictory I know because Zombies are the only one of the standard movie monsters to actually exist.

    But that makes it a tautology. An oxymoron would be if someone zombie movies were not-at-all over the top (which of course they have to be, if you're ever going to get your zombie out of their grave... 8-o not to mention what you say above)

    The last 2 zombie movies I saw didn't have anyone leave their graves. They only turned Zombie if they were bitten while still alive and during the Zombie attacks nobody had a chance to start burying bodies.

    Actually "28 days later" was SO not-at-all-over-the-top that it was nearly believable, which made it seriously scary.

    I thought it was scary - Danny Boyle is really good at building up the tension - but I didn't think it was at all believable. It was just OTT in are intrinsically camp, even if they're also scary.

    Sean of the Dead was not.

    Yes, and wasn't that wonderful?! Though disappointing that there was no climbing-out-of-graves scenes.

    30/04/2007

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    The Worst Thing About Riding a Bike to Work: Part 2

    I've solved the mystery about my decreasing bike performance. It wasn't overload at all. It was my shoes.

    For a couple of weeks I've been wearing different shoes, and this week I happened to go back to the pair I was wearing before. All of a sudden my riding performance took a leap up to being better than ever!

    As far as I can see, it is due to the soles being much thinner. When wearing my thick soled shoes, it is equivalent to having legs that are 15 mm longer, and this seems to be enough to ruin my biomechanics of pedalling. It is strange that such a small change is so noticeable, but there you are.

    Another possibility is that the thin shoes are also much lighter, but I'm going with the biomechanic explanation.

    The solution of course is to raise the seat height by 15 mm.

    24/04/2007

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    The Worst Thing About Riding a Bike to Work

    Is the day it starts to bucket down rain as soon as you are just too far from home to justify turning around and going back. And then settles in for the day so it's still pouring when you go home.

    At the moment I am riding every day, and it just isn't working for me. Every day I get a little slower, I have to change down a gear a little sooner. I'm clearly not recovering from the previous day, and even a full weekend of rest isn't enough for me to get back to where I was two weeks ago. I'm just not fit enough to start doing 40 km every day. I better rest soon or the downwards spiral may start to accelerate.

    On the other hand. With just a little more rest I might be improving by leaps and bounds.

    23/04/2007

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    The Best Thing About Riding a Bike to Work

    Is the instant, coversational, Lay-Down-Misere it offers whenever some wanna-be-hippie is going on about how they purchase greenhouse gas offsets to counter the 4wd wagon they drive to work.

    17/04/2007

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    Disappointed

    I went to my favourite restaurant on Saturday, and it's been ruined :(

    This is Collits Inn, which was established in 1821 and, despite now being located far from any civilization (the highway moved from its 1821 location) was judged to be one of the best restaurants in the state. You would drive for hours down little dirt roads in the dark, with no sign of life, until you suddenly found this old inn containing a top class French restaurant.

    Well we were in the area so we went again... and it is under new management. And it isn't French any more.

    They still had Goats Cheese Soufles for starters (and I'm drooling just typing about it) but the rest of the menu was normal stuff like steak. It was OK, but not worth going deep into the bush for.

    Last time I go there, unless they revert back to the good stuff.

    I wonder where the old chef is working now?

    13/04/2007

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    Funniest Sentence I've Read This Week

    "Tex" is defined as the mass of a thread or filament in grams per 1000 metres. Usually used as the "decitex" (dtex) which is grams per 10 000 metres. The "denier" is defined as grams per 9000 metres, which is equal to 0.05 grams per 450 metres.

    I guess you had to be there. And to already have a very contemptuous attutude towards people who make up their own arbitrary units.

    11/04/2007

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    Suburban Adventure

    To my great annoyance, our hated overlords have decided to close the M2 motorway to bicycle traffic heading Northwest (ie. from where I work back to where I live). This means that while I can still ride to work easily along the motorway, going home means a choice of hilly, zigzag paths.

    Being relatively close to winter, I am also riding home in the dark unless I leave very early.

    So I have a choice in routes home. I can follow the RTA recommended route home, as explained on a little map that they helpfully have available at the roadblocks that stop you riding onto the motorway (not being sarcastic, they really are quite decent when it comes to HOW they are restricting the road) which I tried on Thursday. It wasn't very great.

    OR, I can set off through the bush on a mountain riding track that sort of parallels the M2, as described here.

    So I ignored the gathering darkness and set off into the bush. At first it was pleasant enough, instead of smoking buses and pushy trucks I was riding past horses in the fields and rabbits eating endangered plants (at least endangered now that a rabbit was snacking). Then as I wound down the paths into the valley, the light levels fell to the point where I really couldn't see the path any more.

    I was actually impressed. I've ridden this track 3 times previously, and I found that it took a great deal of concentration to avoid all the fist sized rocks so as to avoid falling off. Now, I couldn't see, but the bike was staying upright and not seeming any rougher than before. Either this means I was wasting my time trying to avoid the rocks before, or it means that all the recent rain had washed the rocks away. I don't know, I couldn't see if the rocks were still there.

    I did have a light, but it is a single LED thing that mainly serves to show cars where I am, rather than throw enough light for me to find my way through the bush. My previous light was a 5 LED thing that did indeed allow me to navigate in darkness and fog, but that was stolen along with my previous bike. (Bastards! I hope my dodgy home made brake handle snaps just as you need to avoid a truck!)

    Naturally I eventually took a wrong turn, but recognised it (I've taken this wrong turn before) and corrected myself. THEN I reached an intersection featuring a signpost. Using my headlight I found that I was allegedly 2.8 km from Cheltenham station (the usual route home from this point) but I was also 500m from Epping station, at which point I could rejoin the M2 motorway and take the easy way home. I made the silly but obvious choice.

    Long after 500m was up I decided that the path to Epping Station was not such a good choice, at least in the dark. For one thing, it was much more overgrown than the other paths, and in the dark, being overgrown is perilously close to being invisible. Furthermore it crossed creeks, and I had to rely on blind faith that it was going to be shallow enough that I could ride though it without the bike stopping and falling over into the black water. Lastly there is the every present danger of large Golden Orb spider webs being built across the path, which are not only strong enough to possibly slow you down on your bike, but will also leave a large, pissed off, Golden Orb spider sitting in the centre of your face.

    Eventually, after some branching and rejoining of the path as it negotiated difficult creek crossings (or so I assume, remember I am riding by feel and sound at this point) I reached a large open area where the starlight was bright enough for me to see what looked like a clear track. And then a train went past in the distance, showing that the track was sort of heading in the train-like direction. So I rode up the open track, confident that I would soon reach the promised Epping station, from where my path home was well known.

    I found myself in some suburban street I'd never seen before. Well I headed down it in the direction of the previously mentioned passing train... dead end.

    After a few more dead ends, and a hill steep enough that I had to get off and walk (something I somehow never had to do while riding in the black forest) I finally found a road I recognised, and worked out where I was, I was in North Epping, 10 minutes of riding and I was at Epping station.

    Another 40 minutes after that and I was home, but the rest of the trip was just grinding up hills on well lit, well known roads, and so it was boring. Overall I took 2 hours to go home, compared to 40 minutes to go to work.

    Next time, I'll try to go a little earlier, so I can take the correct path to Epping station. I figure I lost the track around the open starlight area.

    I suppose this means I've recovered from my illness.

    10/04/2007

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    Stupid Signs

    Coming to work today along the M2 motorway, I noticed a bunch of electric signs flashing messages. The problem being that I had passed the sign before the message was finished. Note that I was riding a bike. The people in cars would only have gotten a brief glimpse. Who thinks of these things?

    Fortunately It Rained Easter Sunday...

    ...So our trip to the finest restaurant in NSW was postponed, giving me more time to move furniture.

    So in total I moved furniture on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday up until 5 pm. Then I jackhammered tiles and concrete for the rest of Sunday and Monday until 3 pm, when I finished the concrete, and went back to furniture moving until 10 pm. All in all, a good long-weekend's work.

    Except of course for attending church on Friday and Sunday. Where our local radical firebrand priest managed, somehow, to squeeze in criticism of George Bush into a sermon about chocolate.

    Speaking of weird behaviour

    I'm reminded of a boss I used to have. He had a $100 000 BMW with a licence plate that had the name of his high school on it.

    Think about it, he was over 50 years old, he had adult children, he was a self made millionaire who had worked all over the world, he was a senior vice president of a multinational corporation that was a world leader in life saving medical technology, and the one thing he was most proud of was the school his parents chose to send him to back when he was a kid.

    What does that mean?

    04/04/2007

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    Resorting To Begging

    I am now getting spam that just pleads with me

    Hello. We want you to confirm your registration information, because we received your loa n request yesterday. Fill the form. Please.

    I wonder if anyone replies because of the desperate tone?

    03/04/2007

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    Poor Me

    Friday I woke up in Hospital.

    While this wasn't a huge surprise, I mean I was in the hospital when I went to sleep, it was still unpleasant as hospitals are not nice places to be.

    If for nothing else because they are so damn noisy. With their emphasis on hard, smooth floors that are easily cleaned, and long corridors that people move glass and metal equipment about at all times of night, combined with machines that go "bing!" (and sundry other sounds) and of course, worst of all, a whole bunch of sick people who are coughing, wheezing, gasping, groaning, getting upset and generally not keeping decent hours, a hospital is not a good place to try to get some decent sleep. I mean you wouldn't want to be sick there or anything.

    Of course I was sick. Some infection of my intestines that on Thursday had -over a period of about an hour- gone from annoying, to "I'm going home right now", to "now I'm home, I'm going to leave again and go straight to emergency".

    I then got to:

    So they stuck me in a bed, and after a poor nights sleep (helped however by a fair amount of pain killers) decided that I was getting better and should just head home again.

    The only treatment I got was codeine and reassurance. Which was probably all I needed, but it seemed disappointing. Especially as they went to all the trouble of ramming drips into my hands (without attaching any actual drip bags) and xraying me. I never even saw the xrays.

    So Friday I was sent home, with lots of codeine, and instructions not to ride my bike to work for a while (damn) and "rest, keep warm, drink plenty of fluids" which is a doctors way of saying "goodbye".

    23/03/2007

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    Joys of Homeownershipdomfulness, Part 3-C

    Another night spent clearing concrete and tiles, followed by exhausted slumber, and then, as the alarm went off at 7 am my wife mentioned "Oh, the renovation staff are coming early so you have to finish the tiles before you go to work."

    "But I can't use a jackhammer now, all the neighbours are asleep." The final words of my sentence were drowned out by the sound of my neighbours starting a lawnmower and a wippersnipper simultaneously. So that was that.

    Then I got an email

    The guy who bought my old kitchen, for pickup early in April, now wants to pick it up tomorrow morning. So I may not get any sleep tonight as I have to disassemble and clean the whole thing.

    22/03/2007

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    Joys of Homeownershipdomfulness, Part 3-B

    I spent wednesday night trying to finish off the tile removal so that the tilers could get to work before they got distracted by some other job.

    The whole reason we are throwing the old tiling job away is that it was garbage: this proved to be useful. The base of the floor under the tiles is meant to be cement carefully shaped so that water flows towards the drain. However, underneath the poorly laid, uneven and cracking-off-when-new tiles, the base turned out to be made largely of packed sand, with about 10% cement content. This means that huge segments of it just crumbles when you hit it. Significant parts can be removed just using a stiff broom. This is an enourmous help in ripping the whole thing out.

    This didn't stop me finishing up for dinner covered with so much fine dust and sand that I didn't bother taking my glasses off when I got into the shower.

    21/03/2007

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    Joys of Homeownershipdomfulness, Part 3ish

    We just got our laundry retiled, and the tiler wasn't any good at it. He did well installing windows and doors, but for tiles...? And my wife got all soppy and paid him 30% of the agreed price instead of zero, which is what you usually get for not doing the job you are being paid for.

    Sooo.. I had to rip them all out again so another tiler can do it properly. (This time we went to a building site and inspected their work before hiring them.)

    So I got myself a Jackhammer. The main purpose of renovation so far as I can see is that you get all these marvelous toys.

    This particular jackhammer has an electric motor with a cooling fan, and the fan sends a high speed blast of air directly into the inside of my left forearm when I am holding it. This was annoying, but I ignored it and set to work smashing tiles. (OK, there is another point to renovation.)

    Of course when you smash tiles, you generate dust, dust that consists of shattered fragments of tiles. SHARP bits of dust. Which are sucked into the cooling fan and sent with high speed into my inner forearm. This became apparent when after an hour or so I noticed that my left arm was covered in a thin sheen of blood.

    Solar Power

    So a university reckons they've got a solar hydrogen generator that will save the world. This is great and should be encouraged, but if the article is anything to go by then they haven't got a clue. Mind you I tend to blame the reporter more than the researchers. What they actually said probably made a lot more sense than what was reported.

    First of all, we have the claim that 40 square kilometres would supply all the energy needed in Australia. Let us actually think about the numbers here: 1 square kilometre is 1 million square metres. So 40 million square metres will supply all the power needed for 20 million people. That's 2 square metres each. The total solar energy per metre is a convenient 1 kW or so. During midday on a sunny day. So the absolute maximum that this 2 square metres will provide is 2 kW. A bit less than a normal household heater. So if the average Australia were to use a heater, that would use up ta's full allocation of energy. None left over for cooking, heating water, driving a car or any other form of motorized transport, no TV, nothing.

    And this supposes that it is midday, on a sunny day. The usual assumption is that the average solar output over time is about 1/6 of the peak value, so make that 333W per person over a full 24 hours. That's 3 and a bit lightbulbs.

    And this assumed 100% efficiency in every single stage from the collector in the desert to my lightbulb. Yeah, right.

    Moving on from what might be a simple typo, (after all, if it was 4000 square km that is 33 kW/person on average, which should be fine) we get to more serious misrepresentations of facts.

    Hydrogen is claimed to be "efficient and polution free". First of all it is a flammable gas, it is no more efficient than any other flammable gas to use. If we look at the system, we find that it needs specialized gas tanks, pressure control valves etc. making it far less efficient than a nice, easily managed flammable liquid like... petrol. Indeed hydrogen is particularly tricky, because the molecules are so small they leak through anything. Hydrogen will leak through solid steel. So it is far LESS efficient than say liquid petroleum gas (LPG) or even natural gas. You know natural gas? The stuff they just burn off at oil wells and petroleum refineries because it costs more to bottle it than anyone will pay.

    As far as polution is concerned, well don't try to use it in a car engine, or any other form of internal combustion. You'll get oxides of nitrogen formed at the high temperatures, which means you'll still get pollution, though with no CO2, CO or hydrocarbons.

    Whenever I read a story like that, I am reminded why I don't believe the mass media on any other subject.

    Words that Mean their Opposite

    Cleave: can mean stick together, or separate.

    Sophisticated: can mean shallow and superficial, or highly educated and advanced

    All downhill from here: Can mean everything gets worse from here, or everthing gets better from here

    Fuck you: can mean I hate you, or I love you.

    20/02/2007

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    Skiamorphs

    A skiamorph (also spelled skeamorph) is a design feature, originally adopted for functional reasons, that is retained as a decoration after the functional reasons become obsolete.

    A classic example is fake woodgrain. Originally woodgrain was required, because things were made of wood. Now they are made from plastic, or aluminium, or chipboard, but still have fake woodgrain applied because people have become used to the look.

    A less obvious example is the arch. If you want to span a distance, and you are building in stone, then the arch is the best method of doing so. Stone isn't strong in tension, so a straight beam of rock will tend to crack and fall unless it is very short or very thick. But an arch will stand up for centuries if it is done properly. However, people grow used to the arch, and so when they stop building in stone, and start in wood, or reinforced concrete (materials that don't need an arch at all) they still use arches because it looks good.

    So are skiamorphs a stupid thing? A useless hangover that should be eliminated? Certainly not. Indeed some of the best looking designs ever feature heaps of skiamorphs. The acropolis in Athens (and other classic greek architecture) is made of marble, but is filled with hidden steel reinforcing and a great deal of extra expense so that it can replicate the earlier temples that were made of wood. In stone it's a silly design, but a fantastically beautiful one.

    But a skiamorph is a useful tool to have in one's mental toolbox. It helps to just be aware of the concept, because then you can see them all over the place, and gain a greater appreciation for what is going on in the world. I've recently begun trying to extend the concept beyond simple physical design, and am looking for non-physical skiamorphs in the world. I've found quite a few.

    To give some examples:

    1. The Post Script. Originally a post script (P.S.) was needed because letters were written by hand, and after finishing the letter and signing their name people would think of something else to say. Not wanting to rewrite the whole thing, they would add it afterwards. However these days everything is written on a computer. Going back and adding in some more before the ending of the letter is trivial, however people still use P.S. because they've grown used to the form, even though everyone knows that it is just a bit of decoration these days.
    2. Exercises tend to be biased towards ones that are easy to do in large groups. For example, some recent things I've been reading on old school (pre-World War 1) type strongmen and excercise emphasise that they would do all their workouts standing up, even things like stomach crunches. So I tried standing crunches, and they are very effective. So why go to a recumbent position which requires some sort of mat for most locations, places more stress on the neck, and often involves unwanted leg muscle involvement? The answer seems to be that in the World Wars, all of a sudden you had to get a group of 100s of recruits to do exercises by command. If you tell them to do a crunch standing up, you can't tell who is crunching hard, and who is relaxing and faking it. So they changed to the lying position where you can tell if you aren't pulling your weight (boom boom). This has stuck despite the fact that almost all exercise is voluntary once again. The same goes for all the once popular isometric workouts.
    3. Indeed a great deal of generally accepted behaviour was transformed by the near universal military experience in the World Wars, and only slowly are the more appropriate to civilian life forms being readopted. Some aspects, such as the preference for large, hierachial corporate organizations were starting to be phased out by the 1970s, while others, like public and semipublic toilets having basically communal stalls separated only by thin partitions stretching from knee to head height... I mean what's the deal there? How did that become the unquestioned, default design for any toilet outside of a temporary military field camp?
    4. Modern, electronic phones that use digital technology to reproduce a bell ringing. Sometimes even with the distortion of a cheap bell.
    5. Bowls, plates, cups etc. being round. Why are they round? Because if you make them on a potter's wheel then you need to make them round. Nobody makes dishware on a wheel anymore, but still they are still round (this is admittedly more of a normal skiamorph rather than a non-physical one.
    6. Insisting on university lectures and other such education being done live, i.e. with the lecturer actually in the classroom. This is vital for two way teaching where the teacher responds to questions etc, but for big mass lectures is not any better than a recording, while much more expensive.
    7. Regarding the "national balance of payments with China (or somewhere)" as having any more importance than the "Sydney balance of payments with Melbourne". This habit of thought is so old that it's difficult to tell if it EVER made sense. Adam Smith thought it was silly back in 1776. There was some logic perhaps when a country's finances were basically the personal accounts of a king, and the king could well spend and borrow himself into major debt, and then have his creditors try to forclose on his country. I can't think of any historical examples though. It was more the other way around, the king would borrow money, spend it, and then declare war on his creditors if they wouldn't lend him any more.

    16/02/2007

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    Linguistic Question for the Day

    At my work we were discussing a very technical aspect about pump specifications, when the following question came up: Is the phrase over-the-top zombie movie a tautology or an oxymoron? Or both?

    29/01/2007

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    Videos and Books

    My year so far has been fairly work oriented, but I have seen a couple of good movies and read three good books.

    The first book was a horribly technical 2000 page Illustrated Handbook of Mechanical Components. I enjoyed it. I would sit in bed reading it and point the good bits out to my wife. She would ignore them and question my sanity. I suppose this is why I am an engineer and she is not.

    Full Moon, Kettle Black. A book on Australian history, that ignores the usual stuff (such as who was at the Eureka stockade, and what they hell they thought they were doing) and even the less usual stuff (why does everyone talk about the Eureka stockade, which was little more than a riot, and ignore the Rum Rebellion in which the actual Australian government was overthrown. Is it just because most historians like the idea of a romantic revolutionary and the Rebellion of a bunch of corrupt robber barons over the issue of alcohol duties is not very romantic.) No, this book goes straight to the actual life in those times, and examines in detail things like the diet (until within living memory, fruit was thought to be bad for you) and the vast importance of moonlight to those without electricity, streetlights or headlights. An entire chapter on moonlight was quite eye-opening as to why the moon keeps popping up in places where a modern person would never think to include it (farmers almanacs and calenders for example.)

    Once I finished the Moon/Kettle book I was bored, so I looked around the house and found a copy of Tolstoy's War and Peace. While not a big book like the Mechanical Components, with less than 1000 pages (980 actually) it was much more wordy, with very few illustrations. But I started to read the first chapter to see what it was like.

    I was hooked. It's actually really, really good. It has all those things that you look for in a novel (remote castles inhabited by evil old counts, vast armies of cavalry and footsoldiers using primitive weapons, evil madmen plotting to take over the world, secret societies, spies and secret agents, gunfights at 20 paces, beautiful women trying to seduce their way into money and power...). It was just like the best of the Fantasy SF type novels, with the exceptions that:

    1. All the basic history was true, so you actually learn some history in the process.
    2. The book itself is historical, written in 1860s. Even if it was a fantasy novel you would still learn history from it, because just reading it reveals a historical mindset that in some ways is quite alien. (Though not anywhere near as alien as books written a few decades earlier. Even this Russian book from the 1860s was much less wierd than an English book from the 1830s. Something happened during the middle of the 19th century that made people far more modern in outlook. (Darwin? Steam Trains? Telegraphs? The (Declaration of Paris) naval treaty of 1856???)Still, he described a beautiful princess as having "an adorable dark down on her upper lip" so it still rocks you back on occasion.)
    3. It is considered "proper literature" by the hoi polloi, unlike any book with a dragon on the cover. You get more brownie points for reading it.
    4. Your more advanced modern author has read it too, so they will be borrowing ideas, and even making in-jokes, about it. If you haven't read it you won't be up to speed. Even if an author hasn't read it, ta's read books by people who have read Tolstoy. Or books by people who read books by people who.... you get the idea.
    5. No vampires. The majority of the characters in the novel are eastern european noblemen with ancient castles in the wilds of someplace where nobody can pronounce their Vs or Ws and NOT ONE is a vampire. Well you can't have everything.

    What it didn't have was that sort of plotless whinging that goes nowhere that is too common in modern stuff that is supposed to be "serious literature". Let's see if any of that is still available in paperback in 150 years.

    I also saw a video "A series of unfortunate events." Excellent stuff, but I can see why it didn't do too well. It sort of looks less mature than it actually is, so it wouldn't attract the audience it would suit. It also keeps breaking the fourth wall.

    12/01/2007

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    Back after Chistmas

    Wife rang me at work and asked me to pick up a bag of rice at the shops, cause we'd run out.

    When I got home, she criticized the rice for being too... something (I didn't get it) and said she'd have to transfer it from the bag to the rice jar. I pointed out that I could transfer it to the jar, but she said I would spill it, because I was careless.

    So she started to transfer the rice. I asked if she was spilling it. "No, I don't spill because I take care."

    "Are you sure you didn't spill any?"

    "No! I am skillful."

    When she finished, without a word, she carefully (and skillfully) took off her shoes and shook out the rice that had gotten inside.

    05/12/2006

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    A Phone call from my wife