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Meanwhile... back in reality

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Megan and Friends

In The Pipeline

Club Troppo

Bronte Capital

Race Engine Tech


Marginal Revolution

The Next Big Future

Wall Aquariums and Fishtanks

Fitness in Reality


Sluggy Freelance

Schlock Mercenary



Blunt Object

Wall Decoration for the 21st Century


Time I accepted that it's over

For the last two years I've been receiving free $50 vouchers for the men's clothing shop Tarocash. The story is that my wife bought me some horribly overpriced undies there once, and the every year on my birthday I'd get a letter from them with $50 to spend. So the undies weren't so overpriced after all.

Sadly, my birthday is a month past now, and no voucher has turned up. I may have to go back to paying for shirts. This is annoying because the newest shirt I have... is the one I got last year with my voucher.


Nutcase Theory

We have an observation: Slim people tend to have better cardiac health.

We have the accepted explanation: Being slim puts less load on your cardiovascular system, and leads to less circulating lipids in your blood stream, reducing the chances of fat build-up in your arteries and veins. Both lead to better cardiac health.

Alternative explanation: Both slimness and improved cardiac health are caused by a third factor.

Brushing your teeth regularly:

  1. Reduces inflamation and infection in the teeth and gums, which has been shown to cause inflammation of the cardiovascular system.
  2. Reduces the chances you will have a between meal snack. Nobody wants to snack after they've just brushed their teeth. So brushing after each meal leads to reduced snacking, and hence to slimness.

Crazy? Or Genius?



As I mention just below, I recently nailed the base of my punching bag to a shipping pallet so I could work out on it. I've done so three times: turning kicks, knees, punches, hammerfists and backhands. Normal stuff.

A friend came over on Sunday to bring me a cake (not sure why). He threw a single punch and snapped the steel mounting spring off where it was welded to the base.

I didn't actually see him do it, so I'm not sure if it was going to snap anyway, or whether he can actually smash steel with his bare hands.

I'll have to keep an eye on him.

Meanwhile, In the local monopoly

Replacement battery for our home phone. Dick Smith s3461 3.6v 800mAh. From the Australian supplier (Dick Smith) $28 plus shipping. From a HongKong supplier, $2.45 including shipping.

The idea that you can have a local shop and charge huge markups is dead, dead, dead.

Note: This does NOT mean that DS is making a vast fortune. They have local stores, with high, shopping center rents. They have local staff, with high wages, and they have to meet 1 million stupid, inconvenient and expensive local rules and regulations that some bureaucrat thought would make him look good to his boss in 1956 and has never been revoked, because deregulation leads directly to anarchy.

So it doesn't mean that the local stores will reduce their prices. It means they will go broke, and everything will be bought on line.


Art Sauce

Another conversation at work:

M: "Hey, my Hot Sauce has arrived"

M: "I ordered it from the 'States. It got through customs."

Boss: "How did you get it through customs?"

M: "I labelled it as ART. Customs opened it, looked at all the rows of bottles, couldn't work it out, and so let it through."

N: "All the..? How much did you buy?"

M: "A crate. With shipping it was $76 for a single bottle, or $90 for a whole crate, so ... you know..."


Cheese and World Optimization

So my boss walks in this morning and was asked:

M: "How was the weekend?"

Boss: "Oh I saved the world and made some cheese"

M: "Cheese?

Me: "What sort of cheese?"

Boss: "Well I normally push through to a camembert, but I've recently encountered some one-day-old cheeses in Tasmania so I...."

After a detailed cheese discussion...

Boss: "...but that was after I saved the world."

Me: "Yeah. You mentioned that...?"

Boss: "Look at www.bravenewclimate.com"

He was exaggerating of course. He saved a few countries at most.

Meanwhile- MY Weekend

I got a new keyboard and monitor for my PC at home. The power supply for the monitor made a loud bang, issued a smell like cooked insulation, and stopped supplying power. I COULD get a new power supply, but that would take more work than a brand new 24" monitor which was my wife's preference. As I watch a lot of my movies and TV on the screen I went for the big one. At $165 it was probably only $140 more than a new power supply anyway, took MUCH less time to find, AND once I bothered going all the way to the shop I also got a 50 pack of DVDs for about $15 less than I would normally spend ($11 vs $26 in Big W) so the total spend was more like $115.

AND for $18 I got a new keyboard. The old one was wireless, which is a STUPID idea: a wireless keyboard needs batteries and they always go flat about 15 minutes before you NEED to finish some important thing (such as correcting someone who is WRONG on the internet).

I had previously junked the wireless mouse for an older, but more reliable, wired mouse for just this reason. The mouse was worse because the optical sensor has a light on ALL THE TIME. The batteries last a week if you are lucky.

I also met a crazy cat lady who has texted me several times since then offering me illegal contracting work. I would take it if she wasn't:

  1. Crazy
  2. Crazy, so I can't trust she'd pay
  3. Crazy, so she's bound to complain, blaming me for something, anything, that goes wrong, regardless of whether it is related to what I did
  4. Crazy, so she'd then regard me as her personal contractor and ask me to do jobs ALL the time
  5. Living so far away so I'd have to drive for an hour

I also finally got around to mounting my kicking dummy so I could train on it without it falling over. As a result I now have a skinned knee from the rough surface combined with my soft, girly like skin on my out-of-condition knee. Mounting it was easy, I just nailed the base down to a shipping pallet. My first training session hasn't pulled the nails out but I expect I'll need to reinforce them soon.


Back in the Black

After Friday's horrible performance, I made sure I got a good night's rest on Sunday and then this morning I went for it. Results were a snatch and a clean and press both 3 kg more than my previous best. Much better than going backwards.

As Mahatma Ghandi put it: PR or ER, Dude!.

Note, I am still deep within the beginners gains on these lifts. Once I work through them, getting a 3 kg gain will not be a weekend away any more. HOWEVER I am reaching the point where I need to start looking for more weight plates again.

One of those "good problems to have".


Back in the Red

Taking off 2 weeks to tour China, and then another one and half weeks to recover, has not helped the lifting at all.

My snatch is down by 2 kg, my Clean and press down by 3, and my Zercher squats that I previously managed 22 reps on was down to 12.

Conclusion: Endurance drops faster than immediate power. Neither are helped by a break that long.

I'll just take this opportunity to note that Power Lifting is a measure of how much weight you can lift, while Weight Lifting is a measure of how much power you can lift with. This is of course the American's fault, they came up with these names. And to think people blame them for stuff like Iraq and ignore the real problems.


China Photos

This building in Beijing. Called The Giant Underpants by locals, which is perhaps not the image the architect was going for.
When there isn't enough room for car parking, have a giant mechanical stacker that picks up cars and stacks them unto a rack. Here we see a car being lowered out when the owner wants it back.
The typical sort of hotel that I stay at.
Art on display in an old converted factory in Beijing. I've chosen not to display all the nude pictures that a prostitute took of herself. "Because she has her finger on the camera shutter button, she is in control of the situation, reversing the male-female dynamic of prostitution where the female is the commodity who is controlled by the... blah, blah, blah." It looks like kinky pørn to me...
A closer view of the same piece. It's mirrored of course, and there are little LEDs counting out the seconds of everyone's lives. Each LED counts at a different rate, and when it reaches 0 it turns off (death) before starting again. Every couple of hours, all the counters line up and everyone dies at once. It's about war.
Of course, what is an old factory without asbestos?
More art. I kind of like this one.
Meanwhile, the factory still has the original slogans exhorting the workers to support Chairman Mao TseTung.
And then there are the interesting things one can find in an old factory. The machine tools.
Meanwhile, I found the underground carparks featured... locking waterproof doors. "Do you get flooding here?" I asked, but the answer was "No." Then why the doors? Nobody would say. I later read that the Beijing area has bomb shelters built into all the buildings. This would be the underground car parks. Any door that can keep out a 5psi overpressure wave (ie. from a nuclear blast) would also be waterproof, and so probably looks like this.
Meanwhile, ye olde fashionede treadle sewing machines are still in daily use. This one in the alteration section of an upmarket department store.
Ningbo, meanwhile, is a rich agricultural area. And the farmers have little stands where they will cut the grapes directly off the vine for you.
More machine tools. Because that's what China is all about right?


China Again

So once again I spent a couple of weeks in China, and once again I'm going to blog about the most obscure and weird aspects of it.

First: Plumbing

One point of interest was encountering a shower without a volume control. Water flow was on or off. The only control was temperature.

My first reaction was "That's stupid.", followed very quickly by "Actually, that's very clever." Why do you need a volume control on a shower? Under what circumstances do you need anything less than a full strength shower. That volume control is only ever used in two positions, off or full, so why not accept that and remove an entire control mechanism from the system. This way you just get a single dial, and the whole thing is simplified without loss of function.

The second plumbing system I found to be clever is that EVERY public toilet I saw had the wash basins OUTSIDE the toilets. The advantages of this are many:

  1. Everyone can see who washes their hands and who doesn't. Public pressure greatly increases the amount of the former.
  2. After washing your hands, you don't then have to open a public toilet door, or go through complex procedures to avoid touching it and so getting your hands dirty again. Instead you are already outside the door, and can walk away safely.
  3. Queuing theory says that with twice as many toilets, you need LESS than twice as many handbasins. Thus by combining the male and female wash basins you get away with less basins being needed.
  4. You don't need to go into the public toilet just to wash your hands

The third example was... not so great.

Second: Traffic

The first city I spent time in was Cheng Du (A little country town of only 10 million people). Once again I was absolutely terrified of the traffic, and thought to myself that if the Chinese government ever wants to raise some cash, all they need to do it install red-light cameras. As nobody in the country seems to have any idea that red means stop. I mentioned this to dear wife, and she agreed.

Then, I went to Ningbo, and lo and behold, a red-light camera. During the wait for one red light, I saw it catch 5 different vehicles.

There is one thing about Chinese drivers, and that is that, while pedestrians may wander out into the multi-lane freeways at any time, at least the drivers treat them with the same respect they show police cars, or heavy trucks. ie. They don't deliberately ram them, but if the pedestrian/cop/truck doesn't take the trouble to avoid the random trajectory of the oncoming car, then that's their lookout.

Yes, even police are treated with utter distain when it comes to the traffic. I once saw an officer direct a car to not take a left turn across oncoming traffic*. The policeman seemed to think that just because there was a big sign saying no left turn, and that there were three to five lanes of traffic coming the other way**, that this meant no left turns should be performed. The driver begged to differ, and the argument continued for minutes until the cop*** was screaming, red in the face, 10 cm from the driver's face. Only then did the driver conceed that maybe, this once, he could go another way. And why are you getting upset?

*Chinese drive on the wrong side of the road, like Americans do.

**The number and position of lanes on chinese roads is a very approximate thing. It certainly has nothing to do with any white lines painted on the road, which are for decorative purposes only.

*** A chinese correspondent tells me that Chinese traffic police are NOT the same organization as the real police force. Hence yelling with a traffic cop is akin to yelling at a parking ticket inspector, not a real cop. Once more the Chinese have a better system that Australia. Here we confuse the traffic cops (revenue raising, "the average citizen is a bad guy", cops are a danger) with real cops (the average citizen is a good guy, cops are to help us). This confusion can't help at all.

Meanwhile, I got to Thinking About Predictions

If you think about life today, and how easy it would be to predict say 30 years ago, you can find three sorts of things.
Easy to Predict 30 years ago Possible, but low odds Huh? What does that even mean?
Apple is the biggest and most influential company in the USA. (Note: not such an easy prediction 15 years ago.) Televised Poker and ballroom dancing competitions The return of pocket watches
Chrysler is bankrupt GM is Bankrupt Morgan is the biggest British car company.
Banks are all bankrupt There are more fat people than hungry people on Earth Followed by Bristol. Recent contenders were TVR and MG
USA is bankrupt Japan is bankrupt
Everyone has a powerful computer in their pocket The main use of the powerful pocket computers is gambling, gossip and pørn
Chefs are the new rockstars
The Russian mafia uses Chinese computers to beam, via laser, images of Japanese Lesbian Schoolgirls directly at everyone in the world.

I love this stuff

Either my taste is getting rapidly worse, or my ability to find good reading is rapidly improving. But I'm finding more and more that I'm reading stuff with a big grin on my face and thinking "This is SO good!"

The latest example being Bronte Capital listed above, as he goes through the operation of tracking down multibillion dollar crimes, and grabbing a bit for himself. Excellent stuff.

The List

Everyone else does it, I may as well...

The top 100 fantasy/s-f books, according to an apparently-arbitrary sampling of NPR listeners. Bold those I’ve read, strike the ones I regret having read, and comment in parentheses. I've added italics for those where I've seen the movie.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (I don’t get it. A fairly pedestrian story with a twist ending that wasn't that surprising anyway.)

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert (I started on the book, and got bored)

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (I did read the semi-sequel Ananzi Boys)

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein (Ooh! It's got sex in it! How amazing and edgy! Why only 50% of the books in the whole world have sex in them.)

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick (Never read a PKD book that wouldn't be improved by... not reading it.)

22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King (I really don't like SK's books, they are too slow.)

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke(The movie was dull, but only because all the good bits have been copied and re-copied until there is no magic left at all. And, as with most old movies, it moves really slowly. I did read The Sentinal, which the book was based on.)

25. The Stand, by Stephen King (SK is better as a movie or TV show, time contraints forces them to edit out all the dull sections.)

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller(Great idea, didn't live up to it's rep.)

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings (Or maybe I did. These attempted copies of the Number 1 on the list are all the same and difficult to distinguish.)

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien(Well most of it. It got so dull and disjointed.)

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White (I might have. These things sound all the same.)

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson(I would have put this much, much higher.)

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman (I can't remember it, but I remember starting to read it, and then realizing I'd already done so.)

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett (How come the discworld series is broken up into individual books while other series are just listed once?)

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson(Hated it. Who choses a horrible rapist as their "hero"? I had no interest in the main character and wanted him to die.)

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind(Well I've read SOME TG books. And they've all got names like this.)

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard (Really only suitable for teens)

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne (What? And no Earth to Moon?)

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson (Suffers from his tendency in his earlier books to have some magical solution to a thorny plot.)

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire (Well I saw the stage production.)

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks (Not the whole series, but what I've read is good. The best depiction of a highly socialist society that actually functions well.)

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher(Gave up after one book. How can this make the list, and not the infinitely superior Dresden Files by the same author?)

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis (An excellent book. All her stuff is excellent, though the early stuff is sexually perverted.)

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony (Started out OK. Got a bit repetitive, but what really stopped me reading was the icky, "women are all victims, men are all rapists, that's the only way it can be" sort of undertone that kept coming through this (and all P.A.'s writing)).

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis (Read the first one.)

Well that's 56/100 that I've read or watched. And probably a couple more that I couldn't recognize but if I read them I'd remember that I've already read them at some point. Especially the fantasy series that all sound the same.


Do you really need 10 000 hours of practice to become great?

Saturday night I had a chat about training with a graduate of the Chinese olympic program. She'd been selected from a nationwide search at the age of 7 and spent the next 13 years living and training in specialized facilities. There was an initial selection: For swimming all the children were lined up on the edge of a pool, some objects were thrown in, and the kids told to retrieve them. Talent spotters grabbed the children who "showed promise" and they were selected. This particular woman got into both the swimming and ballet programs. And stayed in both until at about 15 she had to choose, because nobody could specialize and keep up the training for both.

About the training, she just kept talking about pain. Lots and lots of pain. Hours of pain every day.

We were talking about the movie Black Swan, and she said that in real life it is much more brutal and painful than shown in the movie.

There was also a weird psychological thing about how a child who didn't come from a horrible, poor, background could never be a good dancer because you needed pain to be able to put it into the dance. I've heard the same argument about music and I didn't understand it then either. I've classified this as "Stuff I'll remember the words to, as it may well be true, but that's all I can do."

To get back to the point: The chinese certainly think it is a combination of inate talent combined with years of practice.

10 000 hours is probably really depended on it being a skill heavy activity where you are competing against others who have ALSO put in 10 000 hours.

If I set out to become the world number one at throwing live cats into fishtanks, it would probably take me 100 hours before my particular skill at that weird activity could beat anyone else. (Not counting medical time off!) Simply because at 100 hours I would have 100 times more practice than anyone else.

On the other hand, becoming world number one at lifting weights by your hair would almost certainly be inborn. Once you'd put in 1 hour, there would be no more skill to learn, and everything else would be pure tensile strength.

There is also the issue of carryover skills that is fairly important. If, instead of baseball, Michael Jordan had switched to Volleyball I think he would have done really well. So many of the ball handling skills, as well as judging opponents moves from 2 meters away and using subtle clues to know where they were about to put a large, spherical ball, would carry over. So would the relevant fitness and strength work. He'd START with 7000 hours equivalent, AND have the natural abilities.


Automotive Geekiness

Mmmmmmm.... Geeky Goodness. A lovely site where they discuss fast cars, dangerous modifications to same, and then back it up with Math. A 8 year old me would cry be upset to hear it, but more math makes most things better. Even cartoons.


Math is Hard (for some)

This guy just walks up to me in a shopping center and starts talking.

At first he was fairly normal: Guy: "Hi." "How's it going?" "How's business?"...

But this line soon degenerated into "Business is really bad right now isn't it?"

And soon we were where he really wanted to talk about "The stockmarket collapse? It's ruined the whole world! This happened in the 1930s and the only way out was World War II!! We will have World War III!!!"

Which is a fairly negative, but not completely insane, point of view.

He soon remedied that last part.

"All the money was stolen. Every pensioner in Australia lost $60 000. That money didn't just disappear. Someone got that money!!!"

Me: "Well it depends. If you buy at the high price and then it goes down, then the person who sold it made a profit. But if you buy at the low price, it goes up, and then down again, then nobody else is..."

"No! That money disappeared. You can't tell us that it just evaporated. Somebody got that money. That $60 000. Someone took that money."

Me: "If you bought at the low price and"

"The money doesn't just disappear! $60 000!! They took it!"

Me: "Yeah well..."

"$60 000!! They did it! And now there'll be world war!"

He seemed to have an issue with $60 000. Either that's how much he lost, or he read that figure in some article or on a TV show. I didn't even try to point out that the share market has pretty much gone back to the same levels it was at a year before the crash. Eventually he realized I wasn't that enthusiastic and he walked away.


Last night I was walking down the street, and I saw a wallet on the ground.

The first thing I did was check that my wallet was in my pocket. Which it wasn't, so my shopping trip wasn't looking too good. I picked up the new wallet, and while going back to the car to get my own wallet I looked inside. There were a bunch of credit and ID cards, so it looked like I'd probably be able to find the guy and give it back.

The cards included a welfare card for the unemployed, so I'm betting he'd be REALLY happy to get the wallet back. There were also half a dozen membership cards for various alcoholic establishments, which just goes to confirm all those bigotted predjudices about the unemployed.

I retrieved my wallet from the car and retraced my steps all the way back, then continued on to the shop. Which was shut by now. So I had to go right back in the other direction to find a substitute. While walking through a darkened alley I passed The Eastwood Club, which I'd never seen before.

Hmmm.... was that? Yes, one of the cards in his wallet was a membership for the Eastwood Club. So I walked in and asked the barman if he would be able to contact the guy. He looks at the card and, yes he knew the guy, hold on a second...

He walked over to a crowd in the corner and said something. "You've got to be kidding me?!" Came the joyful shout. OVer came one very happy looking guy to reclaim the wallet of his best friend, who'd just gone off searching for the missing article.

So that went well.


Quote of the Year

That there is no such thing as a boring car:

A beige Camry is still a ton and a half of steel that is propelled to great speed by exploding dinosaurs.


Similarity in Style

So I was checking out the latest XKCD.

At the same time, I was looking at these graphs of gas solubility. I almost got confused at to which was which. You could do an XKCD cartoon by just showing those graphs, and having the caption As usual, Helium stuffs everything up.

Mouseover Caption: One more time and He's getting suspended from the Periodic Table.


Follow Up on a Theory

I previously mentioned

Everyday Survival by Laurence Gonzales

This book was recommended from somewhere, and it was free, so I took it. I'm not very impressed.

It really seems to be two separate books. The first couple of chapters were really interesting, covering people who do stupid things and it leads to disasters. But these are intelligent, or at least normal people. Sometimes definitely intelligent people such as NASA engineers or airline pilots. The book goes into the sort of mental process that causes this, covering "training scars" and the like. It is interesting, and possibly useful, and sometimes blackly funny, stuff.

Then the author appears to have run out of ideas. This is apparently his second book on the subject, so maybe he HAD run out of ideas. He finished the first book, found he had more to write, and set off writing a second book, but after a while ...

Operating on that theory, I figured that his earlier book might be filled with the interesting death and destruction type stories. So I'm now reading Deep Survival

It seems my theory was correct. This book consists entirely of the great stories of people making very bad mistakes, that lead to body counts, and tracing back the learning patterns and inappropriate mental models that caused it. Overall it is a very worthwhile book, but it still has a problem.

The problem is that the author just doesn't seem to understand what is and isn't a relevant detail. When talking about a near fatal motorcycle crash, he spends pages describing what they'd eaten for dinner the night before. He tells us what colour sugar one of the riders was putting in his coffee the previous day. He tells us they had cold showers before the dinner and had to put on thick clothes to keep warm when outside. Exactly none of this has anything to do with the accident, he just seems to add in any detail he can when describing scenes. Well no, no EVERY detail. He doesn't tell us much about the motorcycle, despite it being much more relevant to any motorcycle accident.

This problem raises its head when the author was an eye witness, or as in this case, the actual person involved in the accident. When he's reporting the events third hand, someone else has already edited out all the completely useless detail like what species of bird was singing in the trees and the names of the children of the Hawaiian lifeguard who warned him not to swim out into the rip zone. And what those names mean when translated into polynesian.

And his desire to have some catchy, even poetic, line leads to some just silly statements. Like "There is no such thing as a beginner's mountain. That is like the idea of beginner's sex." So we are led to the idea that you should never start mountain climbing. If you haven't done it before then you should never start. The entire population of the wold should live on flat plains because it is dangerous to ever go on a mountain for the first time. Well the entire population for two generations, because after that humans will die out, if nobody ever tries beginner sex.

It's not that I'm totally opposed to detail, and I'm sure all this stuff paints a pretty picture. But you get so used to skipping over the extraneous detail that you may miss the critical points: eg. that Hawaii, being in the center of the ocean with very little shallow water before the sea drops to a 4 km depth, has much stronger and more treacherous currents than any mainland swimmer, even a surfer, would expect. However it all LOOKS similar to a normal coastline, and so your mental image of what to expect is wrong. Hence it is experienced swimmers and surfers who are most likely to get into trouble because they already have strong expectations of what swimming in surf is like. Because they have so much experience, they've been in many, many situations that seem similar and were able to deal with them, they can get really far out of control before they realize that their expectations don't match reality.

Indeed that example is a summary of most of the book so far. We learn about our environment, we learn how to behave and we form mental models of what works and what doesn't. And if we go to a new, but apparently similar environment, or our environment changes, we can keep on using the old model until the fact that it's broken is rubbed in our face. This may consist of a bruised leg when we try walking on ice for the first time, or it could be sliding down 500 meters of ice and off a cliff.

A number of examples were of people who had organized a hiking or climbing trip, put in a lot of effort to gather friends, get equipment and travel to the bush, but when they got there conditions were changed. But they were so set on keeping to the plan that they pushed on until disaster stuck.

Thinking about this, I tried to remember if I had ever done something that silly. (A major point that the book ignores is that 99% of the time you'll still be fine. This is in fact a problem because you learn that you can get away with this. Until the day you don't. He did allude to this with the line "Sometimes, an experienced person is just one that's been getting away with doing the wrong thing for a long time." Such a person can be even MORE dangerous, because their "experience" tells them to keep on in the same fashion, even when a newbie would see that this doesn't look like a good idea.)

Anyway, I was reminded of some climbing trips I went on with a friend to the glasshouse mountains in southern queensland. These were a big trip, we had to organize and drive for a couple of hours to get there. Two or three trips were great, but two of the other trips were not. Once we turned up to find it clouded and threatening. These weren't hikes but actual climbs (At least the ones we wanted to do were climbs.) One mountain in particular we hadn't done previously because the girls weren't game. So this time we came all that way by ourselves, put on our climbing harnesses, readied our ropes... and then the grey clouds started to spit. It wasn't wet yet, we could probably go up fine. But we knew that if it got heavier, and the rocks became wet, then we'd be up the mountain and have to either risk climbing down, wait an unknown number of hours/days untill it dried up, or call for rescue. We bitched and moaned... and walked away.

That's right, the young, testosterone filled males, into adventurous sports and risky fun, walked away because it looked like it might rain. Are we pussies? Or just smart?

We came back again of course. A nice sunny day. No rain. The mountains were on fire. Doh! The particular peak we were chasing was actually surrounded by burning trees. So we turned right around and went to the second most interesting peak. The fire had already been through that section of the park, and the flames were now out. We could walk through the burned out section, and then once we reached the actual rock face, we'd soon leave all the trees below us and have a nice climb. While hesitantly moving forward we heard a tree fall. The blackened trunks were not just standing there all safe now. They were structurally damaged and they could fall at any second. We turned and walked away again.

So am I a sensible sort of person who would never fall for the sort of trap this book describes? I don't think so. Those two examples are of cases where we saw danger. Where we knew that we were not in the comfortable environment we understood and so we turned back. The point of this book is that anyone can avoid that sort of danger. Well anyone with a functioning brain, so let's say 90% of the population. No, the real danger is where you don't see the problem. Where you think everything is just the same as normal, because you haven't noticed the signs that things have changed. So unless things start to go wrong in a small way and you experience a near miss, you may never realize that you've walked into the lion's den.

It doesn't HAVE to go wrong. You could just work it out a bit late and either get lucky or change your behaviour to match the new situation. The best personal experience I can think of in that mould is in driving. Sometimes a small bit of tyre slip occurs to tell me that road grip is NOT as high as it seems, so I lower my speed and continue on without trouble. Once, when I was young, I didn't get the hint (even though I clearly experienced several big hints) and so managed to spin my car and knock over a traffic sign. I was silly and put myself in harms way. BUT, I had previously been smart, and so my first car was a huge great tank of a thing that could smash over a traffic sign without any damage to me or the car.

Actually, just reading the last few weeks of entrys below shows multiple times that I've thought I was in a normal situation but ended up hurting myself. On that subject, my barbell has a bend in it where it hit my thigh.


Reading at the Moment

This is still the best thing I've read this year. (Though I really don't understand the bit about throwing boys off a roof if you think they might be gay.) And it is up against some serious competition.

However, one highly rated competitor is failing dismally. That is the famous book Lolita by Nabokov. It is fairly lame and pedestrian. If the narator wasn't a pedophile then there would be no point to the book at all. There are a couple of points worth noting:


Business or Charity

My wife's business has been running for about 6 years now, and we recently were reminded of how great the success has been. Not the financial success of the business owner, but that of the employees.

It started when I was invited to attend the recently opened restaurant of one of our ex-staff. It was a high-end Japanese restaurant with exquisite interior design and one of the only seafood offering that I have ever actually enjoyed*.

Anyway, we started to run through a list of all our ex employees (over twenty of them), and almost all of them have gone on to much better careers after leaving us.

In a lot of cases, they started out with little or no job prospects. We'd hire someone who had been unemployed for two years, or was a casual laborer stocking shelves in a supermarket, or was an immigrant who could barely speak english.

So my wife would train them in presentation and working with the public, in sales and (in some cases) dress and grooming. We'd get them coming to work daily, lead them into ever greater responsibility, and end up with them managing a shop. And give them a nice reference on their resume. And the result is that they would be able to get a much better job, as an account manager with American Express, being a manager of a fashion store (that was a big step for a guy who dropped out of his mechanic apprenticeship) and at least two cases of guys who own and manage their own restaurants.

If only we could use our power for evil instead of good**.

*I usually don't like seafood. I'm not allergic to it***, but mum is, and some how I've become the one for whom the smell of seafood is a complete turnoff. Mum on the other hand, loves seafood, but can't have it.

**By evil I mean personal profit, which isn't strictly speaking evil, but that line fits in better with the cliche.

***It's weird that many people just cannot accept that someone can not like seafood without being allergic. It's like a optical mental illusion in their heads. They just can't get their brains around the concept, and many times I've just agreed "Yes, allergic." Just to get them to shut up and stop having a culture shock moment in the middle of the meal. I wonder if I can use this brain software bug for evil instead of good?


I Don't Think I Can Survive Many Long Weekends

I don't know if it was the weight (not yet high enough to mention in public), the fact it was slippery (it was raining), whether I have terrible technique (that is a given; it is supposed to take about a month of specialized coaching to get you to the point where you can do these olymipic lifts in nearly tolerable style. I've had no coaching at all so we can take it as read that my style is atrocious. It just isn't clear if that was responsible in this case.) And it was my 17th lift, of which the last 12 were personal records* so I was pretty tired too.

Anyway it was either fatigue, high weights, the slippery conditions or lousy technique, but I missed a snatch and dropped it. On myself.

I fell over backwards. Maybe my feet slipped in the mud? And the bar came down. I managed to control it to the point where it landed on my legs not my pancreas. And the plates took most of the impact. But my right thigh is all bruised and my left thumb is twice 150% normal size and badly cut. I don't know how I cut myself on a round bar, but there you are.

The thumb was the big issue at the time, but now (4 hours later) it's the thigh that concerns me. "Concerns" means "can I keep lifting for the rest of the week" not "will I lose it?". I think tomorrow's squat session should trade days with a chin session.

Fortunately, the rest of the day was spent hauling heavy fishtanks around, on and off the ute, and heaving them onto piles up to 2 meters above the ground, so I didn't have to... actually I DID have to use my hand and thigh for all of that. :( What is it with injuries? Why do they always occur when I've got a lot of physical work to do? Why can't they happen one of the days when I've got to do data entry or computer modelling or something?

After the Chin Session

I managed the Chinup Session, but the last set of left hand chins was a joke. The cut thumb and cut finger meant my grip was fairly useless. Cut finger? Yes, after writing the initial report above, I managed to stab my finger with a scalpel while removing a security identification computer chip from a pirated consumer product and replacing it onto a working model. The blade snapped and the next thing I knew, my hands were coated with that familiar mixture of blood and ink that tells me it is a Monday after all, even if it's a holiday.

And I've still got

64 more chinups to do today.

Fortunately they'll be girl's chinups, AKA both arms at once.

* 12 Personal record snatches in one day? No, I'm not improving that quickly. The problem was that I had run out of plates to put on my bar, so I had been forced to do multiple sets of multiple reps while I was getting around to ebay me some more plates. I'd have thought that barbell plates, like all exercise equipment, would be cheap as chips on ebay. So many people would make a new year's resolution or something, buy the exercise equipment, use it 3 times, and then a year or 5 later realize that they aren't going to get back to it and so sell them off for cents in the dollar. This certainly applies to lots of exercise and sporting stuff, but weights are fairly interchangeable, and lots of people want a few more, so the market for second hand weights is shockingly high, averaging about 75% the price of brand new stuff ($2 to $3 per kg). I had to wait and wait and bid on heaps of auctions before I finally got some at about $1.10 per kilogram. Now that I've finally got some plates I could start moving up again, so I expect LOTS of personal records for the next few weeks. Providing I get some rain free mornings.


One Speed Fixed Gear Bike

The current trend amoung the cool kids is to have a single speed, fixed gear push bike. Single speed is obvious, a fixed gear means that if the wheels are turning, so is the pedals; they remove the one way ratchet mechanism in a normal bike where you can stop the pedals while the bike keeps rolling. To top this off, the super cool kids don't even have brakes, they rely on resisting the turning pedals to slow down.

It is not immediately obvious why this is a good thing. There springs to mind a number of objections to this approach:

  1. Early bikes were like this, and they swiftly introduced the ratchet, and then gears. These are expensive and tricky things to make, why did everyone adopt them if the bikes are better off without them?
  2. As a child, everyone starts out with a single speed bike. And we all remember how much better things were when you graduated to one with gears.
  3. No brakes? Yeah right.

I have previously asked a fixed speed enthusiast about the attraction. I said "The only point I can see is that they are harder to ride." She said I was correct. I didn't go out and get one.

But now a guy at work has one, and so I hopped on it and went for a ride around the car park...

You know, there is something to it. It is so light (because half of it is missing) and it is so frictionless. And there is a direct feel to the pedals that the freewheeling mechanism takes away. Yes, I can sort of see the point if you live in a flat area where one gear is usually enough.

I don't live in a flat area. So I'm keeping my gears. And stopping the thing without brakes still seems like asking for serious injuries.

Thinking about it more, I think I can see that the shear lightness is a big factor. And 100 years ago, when people turned away from the original single speed fixed gear bikes, they didn't have anything like the light weight and frictionless gearing of modern fixies. I'll guess that a 20 kg, welded steampipe, high friction bearings lubricated with whale oil, example of 1911 bicycle technology was such a grind to ride that the virtues of single speed fixie riding were lost in the sheer difficulty of griding the lump of a thing forward (over 1911 cart track roads). It takes high technology to get the low tech simplicity to work.


The Omnivore's Dilema: Michael Pollan

This book was recommended by lots of lots of places, so I read it.

It's actually a technically interesting book on farming practices, that is almost completely ruined by the preachy rhetoric of the writing style.

The factual explanation of, for example, grass farming is rendered near unreadable by the author who does things like pose ridiculous "paradoxes" that any highschool student could see are merely over simplified wordplay or gross exaggerations. Then the author proceeds to "solve" these "paradoxes" by virtue of reducing some of the exaggeration or pointing out that the words in his wordplay have actually two meanings. Then he sits back satisfied as though he has proved something.

I can't actually fault his facts. Any disagreements I have with his numbers or details can just as easily be explained by his oversimplification, his inprecise language, or at worst a typographical error. For example, the rumen in a cow may be the size of a basketball, but this does not equal 40 gallons. But 4 gallons may be believeable, so a typo is the best explanation.

And writing about his mother's passover meal preparation, and then about hunting for pigs because he loves pork? Once again, explainable, but weird.

But time and time again, his flowery, over-the-top spiel just raises my hackles. Whole sections consist of what is simply poetry rather than any form of narrative. And honestly, if you think that choosing to pay more for a higher quality product is a rejection of modern consumerism, and choosing to produce and sell a higher quality product at a higher price is a rejection of capitalism, then you need to check your definitions.

In conclusion: the subject is worthwhile, but find a book by another author.

Authentic and Genuine

I hate these words. More and more they are used to describe people, or places, or sometimes products.

What do they mean? Presumably they mean that the subject is not deceptive. That the subject does not go to great lengths to manage their image, or pretend to be something they are not. However the words are typically used to describe being traditional, or even just low-technology or primitive.

Which means that the people using those words are being deceptive and go to great lengths to manage their image.

Conclusion: Anyone who uses the words Authentic and Genuine are not Authentic or Genuine.

Like people who use the word "Classy".


Everyday Survival - Laurence Gonzales

This book was recommended from somewhere, and it was free, so I took it. I'm not very impressed.

It really seems to be two separate books. The first couple of chapters were really interesting, covering people who do stupid things and it leads to disasters. But these are intelligent, or at least normal people. Sometimes definitely intelligent people such as NASA engineers or airline pilots. The book goes into the sort of mental process that causes this, covering "training scars" and the like. It is interesting, and possibly useful, and sometimes blackly funny, stuff.

Then the author appears to have run out of ideas. This is apparently his second book on the subject, so maybe he HAD run out of ideas. He finished the first book, found he had more to write, and set off writing a second book, but after a while ...

Anyway, the rest of the book was a spacefilling stream of conciousness where he ranges from spending 5 minutes describing some pretty rocks he saw somewhere (More than once! He saw 3 or 4 lots of pretty rocks, and set out to describe all of them.), to a bunch of oversimplification and reification where he tries to describe the whole universe in terms of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, even to the point of giving entropy some sort of moral value. (The theory being that if the universe has laws that drive everything to increase entropy, then the universe must WANT us to increase entropy, so it is moral to do so... Huh? By that logic it is moral to fall down.). Just occasionally he'd drop in some interesting facts about wind caves (the large internal volume means that when the external atmospheric pressure changes, you get strong winds in or out of the cave) or the stone-age hunter-gatherers still living in some parts of Mexico (I'd have thought that such people were limited to more southerly countries like Panama and Brazil.)

Anyway, I'm finding the book very dull, but the first few chapters, before he ran out of ideas, were quite good. So I'm wondering whether I should bother reading his earlier book, where I pressume he may have been writing something worth reading.


You Can't Do that Anymore

One good thing about listening to audio books is that if you add up all the time you spend while driving, in the gym, cooking etc, you end up being able to do a LOT of reading in time that you would otherwise be half wasting. So you can do things like knock over all those "classics" that you've been meaning to get around to.

Hence I just finished Moby Dick. I'm pretty sure it was an abridged version, because it wasn't that long, and MD is famous for being a really long book, but I'm not too fussed: it left in all the famous quotes and the general story.

However, about halfway through, I realized that I was in fact missing out on the real story. And furthermore I realized that I could NEVER get the real story, it just isn't available any more.

Wait! What? I hear you say. Surely the original text is available at any decent library?

Well yes, the TEXT is available. But the text of a book is like a tree falling in the forest: if nobody is there to hear it, then the EXPERIENCE of the sound does not exist, even if the gross physical air vibrations still exist. So too, the story of Moby Dick can be represented as a series of black marks on white paper, that can be interpreted by a trained human into representing a story in their heads. If you can't interpret the black marks, then you can't get the actual story.

And the non-obvious fact is that, although we in the 21st century still know how to interpret the black marks into a story, the story we get isn't the same one that Herman Melville wrote. Let me count the ways in which it gets warped out of all recognition as it goes through my head.

  1. The original story has a strong contrast between the exotic pacific islanders and asians and the familiar Yankee Americans. My sister was born on a pacific island, I've lived on them, I've spent years visiting them, and I'm married to an Asian. I've never known a yankee American.
  2. There is a big deal of sermonizing about how people men go to horrible places and risk their lives to supply normal civilians with oil for their convenience. This comes out sounding like an anachronistic sermon on the modern oil industry, and then you remember that the author is talking about whale oil, and he had never heard of an oil well. And then you start to marvel at the parallels, and all of this is completely distracting from the point he was originally making. Note my anachronistic use of the word people just there.
  3. Lastly, and most significantly, the author paints Moby Dick as a monster that brave (if crazy) men must kill in a noble quest. To the modern reader the whale is innocently trying to swim around eating squid, and is simply defending himself against attack. Hence the book actually has a happy ending. Or at least a noble ending, it is not clear if the Whale survives the final battle.

What this reminds me of most of all is a passage from (I believe) The History of the American People. In this the author spends about a chapter on the history of Jazz. (And one word on the development of Rock and Roll. Only one word. The name Rock and Roll is three times as long as the history of it, apparently.)

Anyway, there was a quote from a music review in the 1930s or something, reviewing one of these outrageous new Jazz pieces. It was described as a raucous mish-mash of discordant sounds that experienced enthusiasts could somehow distinguish a tune in. The song? Begin the Beguine There is no way, NO WAY AT ALL that anyone living at any time since 1950 could listen to Begin the Beguine and hear a raucous mish-mash of discordant sounds. It is a slow, classical, romantic song about dancing. It isn't even racy by Jazz standards. We have original musical recordings from the 1930s, but we are just incapable of hearing what the original audience heard.

I'll just finish up by noting that the Waltz was originally banned in many places because of it's lewd and immoral nature. WTF? I mean WT-Fing-F? The music of Beethoven and Mozart is lost for all time, all we have is the sound.


The Wire

Because everyone who mentions it praises it, with descriptions ranging from "The best police show ever made" to "The best TV show ever made", I thought I'd have a go.


Not the best TV show ever made. Firefly, Buffy, Top Gear, Early X-Files... the competition is too strong.

Best Cop show? Ever? Quite possibly. I'd put a definite yes on "Best normal cop show." Which removes such competition as Dexter, X-Files and Life on Mars. (Which reminds me, I just watched Series 5 Dexter, and while not up to the emotional wringer that Series 4 ended on, it still lives up to the standards of Series 1, 2 and 3. And I should check to see what Life on Mars is available now.)

It's set in a city called Baltimore, which turns out to be a real city in the USA. Well I mean I'd heard of it before, but knew nothing about it, and had to look it up on Google Maps so I'd have some idea of the geography: if someone in the show mentions having to drive to New York, it helps to have some idea of how far this is to understand the flow of the story.

The first thing I noticed on the map was how it was located on a fantastic series of protected harbours and rivers, and sure enough the second series launches into telling the stories of the crime around the extensive shipping industry.

If the real Baltimore is anything like the TV show, the governance of the city is obvious. Take off and nuke the entire site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.


Fear of the Unknown

When I was young, say about 7 years old, I wanted my parents to get me a bike. They didn't.

But I had a friend who had a bike and so I would borrow his.

My parents were not happy and insisted on not getting me one of my own. It was too dangerous, I could fall off and get hurt, etc, etc.

One day, I borrowed my friends bike, and went on the biggest ride I ever had. For the first time I got to go down a steep hill. The bike was fast, faster than I'd even been before. When I reached the bottom I tried to go around the corner...

An eye witness said that I was sliding along the road surface for quite a while before the bike landed on me. I actually slid to a stop, got up, and was picking the bike up before the pain kicked in. The passing milkman abandoned his deliveries and drove me home, where I was bleeding everywhere, having lost the skin down what seemed like the entire right hand side of my body.

After I was healed to the point where I was moving about freely again, my parents got me a bike. Clearly I'd already been through what they were worried about, and I'd had no permanent damage except for a few scars.

Looks like the world nuclear industry is doing the same thing.


Urgh Part 2

Having recovered from the stomache problems of last week, I got a nasty cold this week. So dear wifey talked me into taking some Codral Day and Night (largely, I suspect, so that she could get to sleep). That night-time formula... I don't know how well it stopped the cold symptoms, but I do know that it knocked me unconcious for 10 hours. Eventually wifey shook me awake to say that my alarm had been going off for a hour, and was I supposed to be going to work?

Luckily, my morning set of pullups, lunges and pushups got me properly awake, and after that I was fine.

N = 40



Food poisoning yesterday. From eating a pizza. Spent the day in bed, which is unbearably dull. So I dragged myself to work today. Being at work is more interesting than being at home, but I haven't accomplished much yet. Or anything really.


Walking through a carpark

Wife: Why is that car called a Gay Man?

Me: That is a "C". It's a Porsche Cayman, not a Gayman.

Wife: But look at the driver.

Me: ...

Me: ...But it's a Porsche!


Making Easter Hot Chocolate

Dear Wife was making hot chocolate again:

Wife: Look, your chocolate has spilled everywhere. Your things always go wrong!

Me: Only mine always spills?

Wife: Yes. And yours was in a taller cup, with less milk, so it was less likely to spill.

Me: Mine had less milk?

Wife: Yes. It's a thinner cup. So less to spill.

Me: So mine had less milk, so it would take less microwaves to make it boil?

Wife: ...

Wife: ...

Wife: You always cause trouble.


More Exercise than I Planned

Below I mention that I broke the shoulder beam on my squat station. So I looked around, found a more robust beam and replaced it. I did about 10 reps before one of the big long beams cracked. I've given up on this approach. It worked OK before but the weights have gotten too large, I need another way to squat a wheelie bin full of sand. Hmmm...

So I'm concentrating on olympic style lifts at the moment, plus chinups and some other bodyweight things just to build up my volume. Because of the lack of both squats and deadlifts, I thought I'd have a go at this program. Basically you start with N=10. Then every evening, perform N pushups, N lunges and N pullups. N=N+1. The only twist I made was to make the pushups clapping pushups. This is done IN ADDITION to normal workouts, but is done at a different time during the day. I am up to N=22 and don't regret this yet, but we'll see.

And THEN, Dear Wife lent my car to one of her employees who needed a ute for work. So I'm riding the pushbike to work every day.

AND it's Lent so I'm dieting.

And yet, I'm not feeling overworked, or even sore. As long as I keep it up every day. I took two days off on the weekend and the muscle pains started to get to me, but now that I'm back into what works out as 3 exercise sessions/day, there is no problem.


Just made a capuccino

...and I noticed that the noise when I made the frothy milk was all wierd. Sort of muted and with a different frequency mix. I'm fairly new to the making coffee thing so I was concerned that this machine with high pressure steam in it might be faulty. I checked everything I could check. The pressure gauges seemed normal. The milk was frothing quite nicely.

Then I realized I was still wearing my noise cancelling earplugs.


Liquid Water

Here's a result that indicates that a lot of comets and asteroids have hot centers and liquid water.

So the number of planets with liquid water is higher than we thought, increasing the number of places that could support life-as-we-know-it.

BUT the number of asteroids and comets with liquid water means that the places that could support life-as-we-DON'T-know-it has just gone up by a few orders of magnitude.

Going off on a speculative tangent...

I'll just point out that any intelligent life that originates on a comet or asteroid would achieve space travel, probably even intersteller travel, with a level of technology much lower than our own. Just imagine an intersteller invasion fleet, in (solar wind) sailing ships armed with swords and bows. They will need some sort of suspended animation or extremely long lives, but Earth trees can live for ten thousand years and many invertebrates can be frozen and thawed without damage. This may well be necessary if you evolved on a comet that has a multi year orbit and only gets close enough to the star for liquid water every century or so...

If you want the maths to work out better, (and all good fiction has detailed maths right?) then I'll note that a solar sail launched from a star 10 000 times brighter than sol, would achieve 100 times the terminal velocity (a square root function), assuming you launched from a distance where the radiation intensity was the same as for the Sol launch. Some solar sail designs predict a terminal velocity of 0.1C when launched from Sol orbit. Eta Carinae is 4 million times as bright as Sol...


OHS Hearing Protection

So I'm testing a machine at work, and some bright spark realized that we could argue that the constant noise from repetitive testing is an occupational hazard and so demand fancy noise cancelling earplugs from the company.

Naturally we chose earplugs that you can plug into your MP3 player. Because who wouldn't?

But with Paradise City on the ipod, I have two problems

  1. I keep starting to sing along, especially with the Revised and Extended lyrics
  2. I keep starting to dance
  3. I keep cranking the volume to the point where it is probably more of a hazard to my hearing than no earplugs at all
  4. I keep looking up the actual lyrics on the internet, rather than working
  5. I keep losing count of things


In a Design Meeting This Morning

"I think if we can get rid of gravity it would be a very good idea."

Meanwhile, when Dear Wife makes some hot chocolate

Me: This is very nice chocolate.

Wife: I use Lindt chocolate. And I have a secret recipie.

Me: What's that?

Wife: I use lots and lots of it.


Getting Better

My wrists have now recovered to the point where I did 10 pullups this morning. I could feel them, and I took care to hold them very firmly locked during the lifts*, but no real pain.

* It feels strange to use the word "lift" for a pullup, but I don't know how else to put it.

On the other... I won't go there... I hurt the right wrist again after lunch sweepin up the remains of my newly purchased chilli sauce bottle that ripped a hole in the bottom of my shopping bag and fell onto the tiled floor.

Situation: One wrist still delicate, still no chilli sauce.


Physical Update Again

Current problems:

1. Sore wrists from learning to do clean and press. The olympic lifting move. (Actually this was banned from the Olympics, in 1978 or something, but basically because it was too easy to cheat in, not because it wasn't a good move.) Only up to 50 kg (plus the bar) so far.

2. Scratches on the hands from clearing bougainvillea.

3. I've just run out of chili sauce.

That's it. Well that's all the physical problems. There are other issues:

1. Dear wife's warehouse for her business has started losing money because we started paying full rent instead of half rent. This must be solved soon, because I don't have a spare $2600/month.

2. We've had a guy at work (my day job, not Dear Wife's business) suddenly go insane. Gets up and ran out of the building when his (also my) boss started to talk to him. Ran away for a week, came back, and then did it again when his boss asked what was going on. Then he came back (after another week) saying he hoped the boss learned a lesson. And based on what I found this morning, having disappeared with a lot of company equipment. And then came back in on the weekend, broke into the VP's office, rifled through personal papers to get his address, and went to visit him. Launched into a long spiel about the "good team" and the "bad team" and how the "bad team" were spying on him and trying to sabotage his work... One day before this started, he told me a long, involved, and not relevant to the work we were doing, story about how he knew a guy at his last job who suddenly went insane, set off a bunch of explosions in the factory, and then drove a forklift through a wall. I thought this was an unusual story to tell me at the time (but amusing, so I let it slide). But then the next day...

3. One of Dear Wife's employees' girlfriends started complaining to her about how her boyfriend (possibly our best worker) is neglecting her and doesn't give her any money. Apparently he gives most of it to his wife... (Actually that's just funny, rather than a problem. At least from my perspective, if not from the girlfriend's. Or the wife's.)

4. I STILL haven't had a spare weekend or so to put the high performance manifold and intake onto my car. Of course this will just exacerbate problem number 5:

5. I needed new tyres for the ute. I found that new wheels with new tyres cost less than new tyres on their own (?), so I grabbed a set of new wheels. Which look fairly nice. But now I've worn out one set of tyres on the new wheels, and one set on the old wheels, (rear tyres on utes have a very short life) so I've got the ute with good tyres all round, but old wheels on the front and new wheels on the back. I want to swap the good tyres on the front to the new wheels, but that means getting someone with a tyre changing machine, and who will work changing non-new (but still good) tyres. I think beer will have to be involved.

Wrist Update

I've still got sore wrists from trying to get into olympic lifting. The "Clean" especially involves having the weight land on your bent back wrists before the jerk or press lifts it overhead. My problem was that my legs, arms and shoulders were able to do multiple reps with 60kg, but my wrists (and/or probably my technique) were more at the 30 kg stage.

It turns out that you use your wrists for EVERYTHING. I couldn't even do chinups. Deadlifts were right out.

Carrying fishtanks was a matter of vary carefully keeping the wrists straight and loading them only axially.

It's been ten days, and I just managed to do a simple set of 5 single clean and presses this morning. And then I broke one of the weights. (Update: Two of the weights.)

"Ah!" You ask "What about squats? That can be done without wrist action. Please see what happened to the squat bar in the attached photo...

I know the broken shoulder bar looks a bit manky. That's probably why it broke. But it did have padding wrapped around it when I was doing the lifts, it's just that I took it off to make the photo clearer.

Then, on the weekend, I lost my deadlift station (it was filled with fishtanks). I need to locate another place to put my deadlift bin. That's the other wheelie bin in the photo.

Here you can see my squat machine. The wheelie bin is filled with bricks and gravel, about 300 kg or so. Plus the weight of the wooden beams. In this position I've got about a 2:1 mechanical advantage on the lever. This is because I was doing one leg squats and front squats.

The advantage of this setup is that I don't need an expensive barbell and weights, and that it is impossible to be squashed under the load, once the bin is on the ground, the bar isn't coming any lower. Unlike a normal machine setup, this does NOT add stability to the system. Those wooden beams are wavering all over the place, and I still need to balance them.

You can also see where one of the major wooden beams has broken, and I repaired it with boards I got from a shipping pallet.

I hate that

This site on biofeedback or "movement" training is exactly the sort of thing I hate. Is it useful? Does it present an improvement in exercise science? Who knows? You can read page after page on that site and still not have any idea of what it is that they are talking about.

Eventually I found a couple of pages where, very briefly, and in amoung a vast amount of waffle about "natural" this and "everyone else is doing it wrong" that, there were one or two paragraphs that actually gave a description of what they do.

Basically, they try to touch their toes, then do a few light reps of an exercise, then try to touch the toes again. If their toe touching range improves than this means that their body likes that exercise today and so they do it. Otherwise they try a different exercise until their wise and knowlegeable hamstrings give them the signal to go ahead.

I'm sorry if that sounds a bit facetious. But really? Doesn't this sound a bit like magic or something?

One the one hand, they may have thousands of examples to show that this works well. They may have sound, nay brilliant, solid neuromuscular theory to explain why this works. They may have a fantastic and widely applicable breakthrough in gym technology. But you'd never know it from reading their website. And the linked websites. And the references they give (at least as far as I could follow without falling asleep).

On the other hand, what they have written sounds very much like someone trying to set up some sort of exercise cult. They call themselves "The Movement". They don't even say "I am in The Movement" they say "I AM The Movement." How creepy is that? And 99% of what writing I can find is all about how other people are wrong, how they are not natural, how "The Movement" is natural (naturally doing something nobody has done before", how everyone else is huring themselves, and a weirdly large amount about pain.

Rule 3 of spotting a scam is when they spend most of the time saying how everyone else is wrong, and hardly any time at all saying how they are right.

Actually, let's run through the rules

  1. They are asking for money: Yes, there are lots of instructional videos and personal training for sale.
  2. Divind the world into us and them: Totally. "I am The Movement" Enough said
  3. They spend most of the time saying how everyone else is wrong, and hardly any time at all saying how they are right: As above
  4. Very vague about what works, how it works, with lots of technobabble: Yes again. So far the explanation is ONE word - biofeedback, with lots of hippy terminology thrown in around it.
  5. Claims of persecution by powerful forces: OK I didn't see this. But I may have just gotten bogged down in the waffle before I reached it.

Overall... not worth the trouble to see if it makes sense. If somebody else who can write clear English works it out I'll read what they say and maybe give it another chance.


Physical Update

Late Last year I discussed how I was doing some bodypart specialization workouts. Training calves twice a day for a month for example. At the end of which my calves were larger than the measurements given for world champion body builders of my size.

So I followed that up with a forearm month, with similar results.

So this time I tried shoulders.
Measurement Result from World Champions Me: 5th February Me: 15th March Summary
Shoulders 63cm (Louis Cyr @ 293lb)

59.5cm (Steve Reeves)

56 cm (Avanced bodybuilder of my height)

46 cm (Average man of my height)

53 cm 58 I am SO awesome

So in conclusion. I am even more awesomer than ever.

A Bad Sign

A bunch of people at work have quit in the last month. I hope they don't know something I don't.

On the other hand, this moves me into being the lead investgator on a couple of neat projects.


I got to sleep after 1 am this morning, woke up at 7, and came to work having a nice big muggacinno. Then, being Friday, I went out to lunch with the guys and we finished up with another Mocha Latte. Then, after 3 people made complaints about my hair, I went to get it cut, and got another free cappacino while it was done.

Two of these were with sugar.

I had a meeting with my boss, my boss's boss, and the CFO. I found myself doing one legged calf raises during the meeting, then curls using a spare chair. I was getting airborne as I took the CFO around the building looking at equipment. I may have to ...

I forgot what I was going to say there.

Child Learns a Valuable Lesson at School

At least one schoolkid learned something this year.


Best Sentence I Read Today

If you don’t keep learning new tricks, you’ll become an old dog.



So it's FINALLY gotten warm around here, after the coolest, wettest year I can remember for Sydney, but 42° for Saturday is decent sort of temperature. Mind you it only lasted for a couple of days, people were wearing jackets today for protection from the cold.

Well, some people claim it was hot all week, but I found it cool to mild, with a somewhat cold wind on some nights. Of course I did spend most of the week in Tasmania so that may have something to do with it.

Work sent me to Tassie to attent a conference. It was technically a chemistry conference, and I'm not a chemist. I'm not a chemical engineer. I was barely able to pretend that I was a minerals processing engineer* for short periods back when I was at university**. But the mechanical materials systems I work on have become smaller and smaller, and when you get things that are small enough, that's called Chemistry. So I found a surprising number of things that were totally relevant and interesting.

Anyway Tasmania, being effectively an Island off the coast of Antarctica, wasn't hot at all. Hobart, after all, had snow on Christmas Eve this year. Remember it's still in the Southern Hemisphere, so Chistmas Eve is mid summer. So it's cool there. Though this didn't stop me getting sunburnt.

*Minerals Processing is largely a specilized branch of Chemical Engineering, and many Engineers swap back and forth between the two roles.

**By pretending to be a Minerals Processing engineer, I was able to get into various Mining Company sponsored university exchange trips to Russia and Chile. I've worked in mines so I can look just enough like I know what I'm on about to pass muster for a week or two at a time. The University never actually checked their records to see if I was eligible. This is the same principle that let me become a postgraduate tutor ($32/hour!) before I even graduated from undergrad. I just did it, and they never checked. Sadly I never pushed this sort of successful approach into other areas of my life. ***

***Unless if you include the fact that I weekly or so do a couple of hours as a tradesman installing things like fishtanks for up to $100/hour. My tradesman qualifications consisting of me buying a drill and a spirit level at Bunnings Hardware.

Black Swan

Sort of like a cross between Red Shoes and Rocky, with some Vanilla Sky mixed it. And I was surprised at how much I liked it. I liked it more than my wife, who dragged me along to it, and then missed half the action because she was hiding her head under her jacket because it was too scary.

It does however bring up an interesting point. A ballet movie can make ballet look just like boxing in a boxing movie: ie. A brutal, bloody, painful, sad, deathmarch of self torture in which people destroy their lives in a negative sum battle with eachother for the amusement of a paying audience, where even the winners only experience a brief moment of glory before burning out into bitter has-been-ship.

And if you look at any long term professional sport story, they are all the same. The only physical competitions where this is not so are those where it hasn't been developed that far yet. And if the sport is popular enough, and the money gets good enough (ie. barely enough to live on), to encourage young people to see this as their dream... then it's fairly inevitable.

Why is this so?

****Some people go so far as to encourage their own children into say Golf, claiming that it's better than football because the top golfer in the world earns more than the top footballer. Which is just stupid. Even a dedicated child abuser should be ashamed at this logic. What if the child becomes somewhere between number 50 and number 100 in the country, instead of number 1 in the world? The number 100 footballer in the country is still earning well into 6 figures, the number 100 golfer just works as a teacher, inducting the next generation into the same hopeless cycle. He wouldn't even be in the first tier golf schools, that would be golfers 5 through 20.


While in Hobart I went to The Museum of Old and New Art. It was described to me as comparable to the Louvre, but I was not that impressed. It's still probably the best thing to see in Hobart, but that's not such a high bar.

The workmate I went with was even less impressed. Having 3500 year old Egyptian mummies mixed with photographs of someone with writing on their skin and paintings of transexuals is probably a bit too weird for some.



Late Last year I discussed how I was doing some bodypart specialization workouts. Training calves twice a day for a month for example. At the end of which my calves were larger than the measurements given for world champion body builders of my size.

So I followed that up with a forearm month, but then Christmas unexpectedly turned up and I didn't do any exercise for a couple of months.

But now Christmas is nearly over so it's time to see if any forearm size at all remains from that one month sequence.
Measurement Result from World Champions My October result January result Summary
Calf 40.9 cm 44 cm 44.5/45 (L/R) I am awesome
Forearm 34.9 34/34.5 (L/R) 35/35.5 (L/R) I am awesomer

So in conclusion. I am awesomer and becoming even more awesomer.

Wifey learns a valuable lesson

Wife: These are the photos so you can sell that mirror thing on ebay.

Me: Ooh! You have made the third classic error!

Wife: Huhwat?

Me: The first classic error is: Never get involved in a land war in Asia. The second is never cross a Sicilian when death is on the line. The third is... never take photos of shiny reflective objects when you are in the nude. And then put the photos on the internet.


How to tell if someone is not originally from Australia

When holding a snapping, hissing reptile out for them to look at, say "It's not very poisonous, and the poison fangs are very small, it finds it difficult to inject the poison into a human."

Non-Australians somehow interpret this as BAD news. Australians see this as the GOOD news it logically is.


Bugger (and not in a good way)

Saturday, I was stopped at a traffic light, late for an install at someone's house, and hungry because I'd had no time for breakfast, and it was half past lunch already. The lights changed, traffic moved off, someone stalled their car, traffic stopped, I didn't. Well not until too late.

Fortunately, I hit a Toyota Corolla, so there was nearly no damage to my car. There would have been no damage at all, but the corolla was fitted with a tow bar, which consisted of the only bit of solid metal in the entire rear of the vehicle. So the bumper and boot of the little car was crushed in, while the tow bar punched a hole through my lower bumper and nearly penetrated the air conditioning condensor. (That would have been really bad. While global cooling is providing a nice, cool summer this year, it is still not suitable weather for driving without AC, at least if I'm going to work or something and so want to not be sweaty when I get somewhere.)

The corolla was pushed into the rear of the car in front, a new Mitsubishi Lancer, which looked OK to be, but probably needs something done to it. I'm sure a panel beater could find some work to do. My insurance company will not be happy with me.

Meanwhile the Corolla looked something like an accordian. I have decided to return to my previous bias in favour of big, solid cars with separate bumpers. Forget the efficiency argument, one little bump and all the money you've saved in fuel has just been spent on getting the little vehicle rebuilt or replaced. Meanwhile, my Falcon Ute needed a 3 washers, 1 screw and a cable tie to look as good as new. Except for the hole punched in the plastic, I've bought a $20 fibreglass kit for that. At least all the little cars were still drivable, so no cops need get involved.

Nobody was hurt, except my no-claim bonus, but the corolla driver was somewhat shaken. Literally, her hands were vibrating and she was breathing quite quickly. Everyone convinced her to pull over into a servo (10 metres away) and have a drink or something before she kept driving.

In an ENTIRELY unrelated thing, I had bought 4 tyres that morning. I'd found that the cheapest way to get new tyres is to buy new wheels, with tyres on them. So I ebayed it up, and got a set of shiny mags. But only two of the tyres were new(ish) and two were not good at all. So now I have 4 good wheels, and 4 good tyres, but only two of the new tyres are on the new wheels. I'm currently driving with new wheels on the back, old wheels on the front. So it looks strange but all the tyres are good. I just need to find someplace to swap the tyres over onto the good wheels. (This is unrelated to the bingle, because I didn't even apply the brakes.)


Flooding: None here, but it has rained seemly ever second day since the beginning of 2010. It must be a little troubling to the climate scientists who claimed Sydney would run out of water by last year because it was never going to rain again. Still hasn't been really hot yet for more than about 5 days in total, and they were widely separated. Which is good, it isn't heat that really gets one down, it's day after day without ever getting cool. Haven't had that at all.

When I rang Mum and Dad for Christmas, they'd been hit by a cyclone that morning (Christmas morning). But all the weak trees had come down in the previous cyclones so there was very little damage.


I just checked my records and the last time I did anything was 19th November, and that was just calf and forearms. I did 3x3 one arm handstand pushups this morning. My partial excuse for this, at least for the last three weeks, is that I managed to fall onto a crowbar, that was resting on my finger, that was resting on a concrete floor. A big bruise came up of the back of the finger, and when then went away another bruise appeared on the front of the finger, and that sort of changed into a blood blister that is still visible, and still hurts when I put a load on it. But today I found I can make a fist again, so that excuse is pretty much gone.

Update: I did 20 chinups and the finger won't let me make a fist again. So more time is needed, at least on the pulling style exercises.


Back at Work

Workmate: These marks on my leather jacket are... stripes of...

Me: Manliness?

Workmate: Yes!

Scratch marks from where he crashed his motorcycle. Which so he is arguably correct.

Best comment on modern food I've read in a while

“they find “convenience” and restaurant foods more accessible than foods they cook themselves”

And why?

Can I toss out a more plausible theory than the ridiculous “food deserts” pablum?

Simply the standards have gone up. You cant get away with trotting out the sloppy Joes and boil potatoes your mother did.

Now there is a ovo-lacto vegan in the household. And someone demanding Fresh[tm] Local [tm] produce. And cruelty-free ground beef in that sloppy Joe please.

And we all now are familiar with restaurant plating and quality- dont think you can just plop a ladle of food stuff onto a plate and think a family accustomed to eating with their eyes isnt going to wonder why the asparagus isnt all going the same way or why you arent using panko bread crumbs. Those fish sticks aren’t attractive little packages like a sushi plate.

And on the subject, today’s dinner isnt going to be happy with the “real food” boiled potatoes of yesteryear. Where are the jerk spices?, the garam marsala? the pad thai? Arent you going to snip in some fresh cilantro? Today’s palates are all over the map.

The fact of the matter is that producing food the quality of what is done in restaurants, with the presentation, the variety of spices and range of dishes and “side orders”, can be done but it is a major undertaking that Bitterman doesnt try to address. These are multi-hour meals to create and that is a major time commitment. That’s why people look favorably on Thai take out and Sweet Tomatoes buffets.

Try slopping out your lentils 5 nights a week and see how far you get.

Until foodies acknowledge that they are part of the problem [tm] we will be wasting time talking about food deserts that dont exist and wondering which government department is best charged with promoting Real Food.

From here

You had to be there

Doing a video conference, we naturally had trouble hearing exactly what letters each group on the other side of the Pacific were actually saying. So, as has been done many times before, we reinvented the idea of replacing letters with common words.

Group B became group Boy, group C became group Cat. Then we had to refer to group D, which became group Dog. Finally, I had to discuss group... Aardvark.

Just like dumping scrap iron into a steel furnace

I'm using a can of baked beans as coolant in my microwaved bowl of chilli. It's working fine.

Nazi Superweapons: Three Book Reviews all sort of smooshed together

Someone (I forget who) recommended this:

Stevens, Henry, Hitler's Supressed and Still-Secret Weapons, Science and Technology. Adventures Unlimited Press: Kempton, Illinois. 2007

But, I'm totally unimpressed.

For starters, the auther clearly doesn't know much about technology. He would quote a source document that would discuss something perfectly normal, but a bit technical, such as a guided missile. Then the author would explain what this technical document meant, and get it laughably wrong. Someone would have a circuit diagram for a radio, (the sort of basic radio diagram that any high school student would recognize, not an FM transiever or anything complex) and he would interpret it as a machine for pulling energy out of the air (which it sort of is, very tiny amounts barely sufficient to move a small speaker) and hence the germans had free energy machines.

It's not just technology either. There were letters from the US military in response to a freedom of information request that clearly, in plain english, say that there is no document by the name he requested and they aren't equipped to do research and find other documents (in German) that might mention the same subject. And he misinterprets this into being an illegal refusal to give him the document he asked for because they didn't have the staff. No, it said in the first line that they didn't have the document he asked for, they didn't have staff to go through all the World War 2 files to see if they had something similar.

But mostly, it's the continuing mindset that the Nazis had nuclear (or better!) powered flying saucers with death rays, lazers, computers and even more advanced technology. That the USA only had the technology depicted in a Beetle Bailey comic. And that the USA must have stolen anything more advanced from the Germans and lied to cover it up. Anything really vague can be interpreted to support this. If you are completely ignorant of what you are reading about, well that can be interpreted to support the theory too. And anything that clearly does not support this theory must be an American lie.

How on earth the Germans lost when they were clearly so advanced and only opposed by enemies barely past the muzzle loading musket stage is left as an exercise for the reader.

BUT, the book is worth having, because it acts as a beautiful counterpoint to a pair of other books I just read, including one I found while looking for the recommended book.

This other book, World War II Data Book: Hitler's Secret Weapons 1939-1945 is on exactly the same subject, but written with a clue. Once again a whole series of secret Nazi military projects were covered, but this time:

Many of the Same secret projects are covered in both books. But in one book it would be a mysterious, glowing, UFO that may have had technology modern science can't explain. In the other book it was a guided missile that used cutting edge technology for the time, but nothing that wasn't in mass production by the late 1950s, and that failed to make a military impact precisely because it a jury rigged, highly unreliable, laboratory prototype that wouldn't have left the test lab under normal conditions for another 10 years, but when the lab itself is being bombed, you take a chance.

Incidentally we now have a source for the "Foo Fighters", the original UFOs reported by allied pilots during World War II. They were experimental German jet and rocket powered guided missles and fighters. Sometimes guided by radio, sometimes by long wires. Yes they glowed, they have a rocket at the back. Yes they were much faster and more manouverable than normal (propellor) aircraft, that's the whole point of jet and rocket powered missiles and fighters. Nothing mysterious there at all when you think about it.

Which brings us to The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. Mostly about human credulity, this has a neat section on UFOs, and contains a theory about the early rash of post war UFO sightings, particularly in the Southern USA. Carl, (Who was a senior US government scientist working on Space things) has a theory that this was due to two things. Well, three things.

  1. The USA was testing a variety of secret aircraft, both home grown and captured from the Nazis (and I suppose Japanese). These included jets and high altitude balloons that functioned as low flying spy satellites.
  2. The USSR was testing a variety of secret aircraft, both home grown and from the Nazis. These included jets and high altitude balloons that functioned as low flying spy satellites. Yes, this included testing them over the USA (perhaps). This, Carl reasons, would explain why they were concentrated over the Southern states. The Russians couldn't fly in from the North without tripping the NORAD radar and risking war. But the South was wide open at the time, and the Russians had bases such as the one in Cuba. A base that the Americans eventually risked war to make them close down. Carl's theory is that flights by Russian aircraft over the Southern USA would have logically resulted in mysterious sightings that mysterious US government agents proceed to cover up, exactly like is reported.
  3. Once the idea is planted in peoples head, Alien spacecraft suddenly becomes the standard explanation that everyone applies to all the usual sightings and mental experiences that earlier generations put down to being elves, witches and saints. Indeed he compares the descriptions of Alien encounters with those of medieval Spanish visions of Mary, or early British Elf and Faerie visitations and finds that they are absolutely identical in all objective ways.

Getting back to the allegedly mysterious Nazi tech in the first book, we find a variety of projects, described as wonderous technology, that with a little bit of knowledge turn out to be well known devices, if not actually boring. For example a mysterious circuit that was somehow able to extract free energy from the universe... well I've seen that circuit before, and yes, it IS able to provide free energy. Providing that mysterious shape in the middle is a radioactive isotope emitting beta particles. Leave that one word out of the description and we have a perpetual motion machine.

Other chapters are about less recognizable things. But if I put my mythbuster hat on and ask "How COULD this quoted german information be correct, even if the later interpretation put on it is stupidly insane?" I often get a rather prosaic answer. For example a chapter on a "time machine" features photos of a concrete structure that supported large concave mirrors that allowed you to look at events that occurred in the past. Well that structure looks like the ruins of an astronomical telescope. And telescopes feature large concave mirrors. And astronomy looks at events that occurred in the past, because of the time it takes light to get here (often millions of years). So yes, a young german boy hears his father discussing the time lag in looking at stars, and 50 years later the conversation is translated into English and becomes a time machine.

Both books present a very interesting picture though. That is one of Germany, fighting a two front war against much larger opponents, nonetheless spending vast resources developing weapons and technology that was much more cool and awesome than militarily effective, at least in the short term. Some of the projects could arguably have swung the fighting Germany's way if they hade been focussed on and made it to production in the early war years, yet they were kept in limbo while effort was poured into electric giant tanks and coal powered spaceships. Why is this? I have a theory:

Let us say you are a brilliant German engineer, and you have stuffed up and not taken your family to Chile in 1935. So now you are stuck in Nazi Germany. What are your choices?

  1. You can work on inventing the television or something until you are drafted and then you repair tanks on the eastern front in -45° weather until you get killed
  2. You can work designing improved panzer gun sights. This means you are helping the Nazi regime, you are working in a tank factory that the entire British and American airforce is trying to vapourize, and when the war is over there is a good chance of you being shot by the Russians, or jailed by the Americans, or at absolute best being out of work in a starving war torn country where nobody needs a panzer sight or even wants to admit that such things exist.
  3. You can dream up some bluesky project that might just make some fantastic, science fiction like superweapon ten years AFTER the war is over. This way you work in some nice, safe, secret underground lab in the mountains of UberHeidelberg. Your wife and family live in some nice little mountain village and you can go home to them every night. And when the war is over you and the family are whisked off to an almost identical facility in Colorado to continue work on the project.

So I'm guessing that every engineer and scientist in Europe spent every spare second dreaming up some super awesome ultracool megaweapon, that would appeal to the Nazi leadership. Given that Hitler and friends had the military instincts of 12 year old boys this resulted in naval engineers who spent the entire war designing 1 million tonne mega-battle ships that couldn't even fit into an existing port, but did mean they never had to get shot at, which was their prime goal at this point.

And then, if your ridiculour idea turned out to be too practical, actually you COULD build nuclear electric submarines that might well win the battle of the Atlantic, then it would be a really good idea to divert the project to sub orbital hyperbombers that might be able to reach New York by 1950. Because the last thing you want is for your weapon to actually succeed! That takes you out of the nice safe lab and puts you in a factory which will get bombed. That takes you from a valued scientist who can claim asylum to an evil war criminal who will be shot by the starving British, or worse that takes you to a future when Hitler has won and is in charge of Europe for ever. That is not what you want at all.

Last of all, after the war is over the German researchers are going to exaggerate the awesomeness of the secret projects they were involved with. They knew that the Americans are thinking "Panzer gun sights? Kick him to the bread lines. Nuclear Rockets? Ship him and his family to a high paying job for G.E." So anything at all gets exaggerated, extrapolated, and for the desperate just plain made up. Which results is all sorts of fanciful stories like the Henry Stevens book is full of. And we know this is true because the same thing happened to a lesser extent at the end of the USSR.

Getting back to the two books. You are, in general, much better off with the second book. Sure 1700 tonne tanks with 350 mm guns firing one tonne shells isn't as mysterious as Nazi flying saucers with death rays. But they are probably even cooler. And both weapons go head to head in "Watch on the Rhine" by John Ringo and Tom Kratman. With Nazis.

And to finish up with the Demon Haunted World. It is good in parts. It was in fact written in parts, consisting of various expanded magazine articles and the like strung together. At it's best, the section on Child Abuse, we have a fascinating comparison, side by side, of the 16th century witch hunts with modern repressed false memory child abuse cases. Cases are compared side by side and shown to be identical. Even the exact actions of the accused were identical (human sacrifice, sexual abuse as a sacrifice to satan, multigenerational sexual experimentation to produce a race of victimns, repressed memories...). The only words that have changed is the substitution of "Satanist" for "witch", a substitution that the original witchhunters wouldn't have turned a hair at. Whatever is happening, it is clearly the same thing.(Unlike the comparison with anticommunism where it is merely similar in style. Nobody was accusing holywood communists of literally putting children on alters and killing them during a dark mass.)

However other parts of the book were less impressive. Some consisted of merely presenting the stupidest comedy and fiction as though this was representative of average thinking. Then there was his recounting of, and long winded explanation of and cure for, the well known urban legend about falling educational standards without acknowleging that anyone who tried to measure this found the opposite.

One more thing that put me off was his glossing over of word meanings changing over time when presenting historical politics and comparing it to modern politics. "liberal" for example is a word that has been applied to 19th century anti-slavery groups, 1930s eugenic movements, and current puritan environmentalism. To treat it as a word with a consistant political meaning is misleading at best.

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