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13-12-2012

Full Speed

Last night I drove to Newcastle, helped dear wife change some things in her shop, and then back again this morning (yawn).

So boring right?

Not so. For one I was in her car, the 530 BMW, which (try to improve it as I might) my ford just doesn't compare to in any respect except running costs and load capacity. The E39 model 530 is considered by many to be the best sedan EVER. Not the fastest, or the most luxurious, or the best handling, but the best ever compromise. This will no doubt be superceeded at some point, and may already have been by the very latest BMWs or Mercedes or something. But it is really damn good.

For the second thing, it was pouring rain. A huge thunderstorm the whole way. Which meant that 100 to 110 kph was actually the maximum speed that I could drive safely without crashing. Constant tiny corrections were needed to the steering, I was starting to catch slips, there were puddles on the road that got me off-line...

So I was actually doing 2 hours of FULL SPEED driving in one of the greatest cars in history.

Sweeeet.

Now coming back in the morning? That was dull.

23-11-2012

More on Atlas Shrugged

Below

I mentioned I was going through Atlas Shrugged. The kinky sex has increased. It is now clear that in addition to the dominance/submission fetish and the skinny fetish, the author also has a strong smoking fetish. But not cigars or pipes, no it is cigarettes that the author is obsessed with. Weird.

There are also hints of homosexuality. But that is to be expected when there is a secret city-state, trying to be independent of the entire rest of the world, that contains only two women. I guess they didn't think too carefully when they planned this scheme.

Lastly, the entire plot of a nation falling to bits over a period of about 2 years is just too rapid. I could suspect that maybe she didn't have our historical perspective: we've seen a lot more industrial countries decline than she had, and we've seen that it is a slow, grinding process over many decades, subject to many reversals and apparent booms. But that would require complex writing and non-cardboard-cutout stereotypes. And hence wouldn't fit in with the rest of the book.

Meanwhile, on my upper lip

A TV appearance demanded that I not look like someone for whom "Thou" is a cromulant pronoun.

In retrospect, I should have just gone with it.

19-11-2012

Ibuprofen: Nature's Asprin

The leadup to Christmas is always hard work, with my day job remaining full time and dear wife's business going into double time.

Plus, like an idiot, I've started a 5 max singles, 5 times a day maximum hand grip exercise program. As seems to be the case with these daily programs, you get worse before you get better. I started off with a two handed squeeze of 110 kg, but now it get's down to 60 kg at times. And then my "rest time" is spent lifting and carrying heavy boxes and steel racks.

The result is that my hands hurt all the time. And I can barely move until I've had a double cappacino, 200mg of ibuprofen, and 200 grams of protein.

That isn't just when I wake up, that's at any time of the day or night, whenever I want to move.

Oh yeah, there is the issue of being woken up at 2 am to fix a printer or explain how to pronounce the name Clancy.

And I suppose I should mention that every single lunch-time at work for the last month we go out to the carpark to do martial arts breaks on blocks of ice. But I can't imagine how that could have an effect.

< One thing I do like is the new promotional V cans. A can with a screw-top lid. Containing 710 mL with a warning on the side saying an adult should not drink more than 500 mL in any 24 hour period. Yeah right.

And I get a lovely new aluminium water bottle!

12-11-2012

Competing Layers of Stupidity

I'm just going to bitch about the requirement to wear hearing protection because of the incessant beeping alarms that are mandatory to fit to mobile lifting platforms.

Has anyone ever studied the improved situational awareness one gains by adding 5 high volume beeping sources, and then a set of earplugs to block out the beeping?

09-11-2012

More Books Mainly

Not much happening this last month, except that I've signed up for Movember. And of course have read a lot of books.

The two books worth mentioning are:

The Battle of Hastings by Harriet Harvey Wood It was very much like an episode of Game of Thrones. There was ALL sorts of stuff going on. Vice-King Harold was shipwrecked and captured by pirates who sold him but he managed to escape though in the process may or may not have made a pledge in front of witnesses who have now all died. The King had meanwhile recalled his nephew to name him his heir, but he was an elderly man (40 years old) and died on the day he came back from Austria, from “natural causes”. Of course for heirs to the throne, murder is the natural cause of death.

Meanwhile there is a secret document that alleges that Harold’s uncle promised the throne to his cousin, but then in Norway, a mercenary from the elite Varangian guard of Byzantium has hacked and slashed his way through a dozen different battles, pirate raids and straight out banditry, up through Russia to Scandinavia and then muscled his way onto the throne. He was an actual Berserker, the fighting naked, frothing at the mouth, allegedly turning into a bear or wolk type. He had a son who not only became a saint, but is the origin of my family name...

Then, back in Normandy, Willian sent a lawyer/ambassador to the Vatican, who developed a legal argument that the pope should support a holy war against England. Not only did this argument form the legal precendent for the crusades that began soon after, but this evil lawyer type turns out to be an ancestor of my mother's family. Hmmmm.

Which reminds me of a point someone else made. He said something like: Pagan priests, their hair matted into dreadlocks with human blood, tear the beating hearts from a thousand victims in a vast human sacrifice to their demon gods. Blood flows down the stairs of their temple, built on top of a pyramid, in the centre of a city, on an island, in a lake, in the crater of a volcano. Suddenly, out of the jungle, burst a group of pirates and armoured Christian crusaders. Massacre ensues… This is the history of Spanish conquest of America. It is worthy of any big budget movie or fantasy epic. Children would, and do, pay good money to read and study such stories. And when they get to history class, what do they get? A list of dates and some “day in the life” style comparisons with a medieval monk.

And in Australia of course, they get the recounting of the dull old first fleet, year after year, from grades 1 through 12.

It’s so difficult to believe that people can make history boring by accident. There must be some sort of conspiracy to make it as dull as possible. Because when you actually go looking for yourself, it’s all about insane warrior supermen who start off as… accountants or something, and pull off “you can’t put that in a movie, it’s not believable” level of stupendous feats to become kings of barbarian kingdoms.

Atlas Shrugged People talk about this book so much, I decided I had to read it. So far: it is a very weird book.

It consists of conflicts between many technically ignorant, not to mention borderline retarded, people, with the social skills of 8-year-olds, versus a group of technically smart people, with the social skills of 4-year-olds. Because 4 year olds cannot work together in any way, or even understand that there is a conflict, the 8-year-olds are winning.

Note that these are 4-year-old and 8-year-old social skills by MY standards. The socially deft probably reach these levels at 2 and 4 years respectively.

As soon as you meet a character you know which group they fall into. The "good guys" are all described as skinny. Gaunt, emaciated, bony, starved... these are all used as terms to identify the "heros" of the book. Anyone described as "heavy, solid, fleshy, muscular...." these turn out to be "bad guys". Well it's a change from having them wear black and white I suppose.

And then there is the séx. Weird, dominance/submission, rape-fantasy, perverted séx. I know better but I still get surprised when old books are filled with séx. Somehow I can't shake off the social conditioning that tells me blatent séxuality only became popular since the 1960s. Clearly, like everything else from the 1960s, this is rubbish.

In fact, this aspect of the book is such a stand out feature that it can be used as a swift test to see if anyone discussing the book has actually read it. Anyone from a left perspective who criticizes the book, and doesn't mention the rape-fetish, obviously hasn't read it.

To tie the two sets of weirdness together, everyone in the novel so far has a "skinny" fetish. The "emacited" woman is the one everyone regards as beautiful.

The politics in the book is slightly rearranged from our time. The left-wing groups are the ones pushing for women to stay out of the workforce and to stay at home and have babies. But that is the sort of weirdness I expect to find in old books.

So why do people keep reading this? Because large parts of the politics sound like they come directly from the headlines of today's news. Well maybe not headlines, they tend to tone things down a bit. But articles, editorials and private discussions certainly. I've definitely heard discussions of the Mining Resources tax over the last year that could have been lifted wholesale from this book.

And the book features someone who spent hundreds of millions (billions in today's money) to develop huge mines in Mexico, only to have the nationalized. Only a couple of months ago I heard a geologist say "There are gold deposits in Mexico that would make me, personally, a billionaire if I found them in Arizona. But nobody will develop the mexican ones because it would take $20 billion dollars over 20 years, and then the government would step in and take it away."

Meanwhile

I got a distinction (100%) in my Programing in R course.

05-10-2012

Doing the Tourist Stuff

So my brother-in-law is in town (his first time in Australia) and hence we are doing all those things that you tell everyone is the advantage of living here, but never actually do unless a visitor is here.

*The answer turns out to be that with a Muscat Liqueur, the Muscat grapes are dried on the vine, to concentrate the juice and enhance the sugar content. It's fermented and then the brandy is added to increase the potentcy. Port is generally made from a different variety of grape (such as Shiraz), the grapes are picked fresh, and they add the brandy partway through the fermentation to retain some sweetness.

Thinking back through the viniers answer, she did sort of mention some of this process, but was unable to articulate which was Port, which was Muscat Liqueur, and never got to the "drying on the vine" bit.

26-09-2012

More Stories with Curious Parallels

Following the coincidence of the stories of the Inca and Byzantine empires, I read another two books that also strongly reminded me of eachother.

In this case the books were "Cowboys and Aliens" and "The Hunger Games". And the strong resembelence between them is that both of them needed some serious editing.

To start with, the final chapters in both needed to be just ripped out and thrown in the bin. The fight is over, the bad guys are dead. FINISH. Don't go on and on for another couple of chapters to try to tie up all the little character arcs, and let us know how each one of the good guy was able to come to terms with life blah, blah, blah. It's not as though these were INTERESTING character arcs, they were just dull internal monologues in which we find that the lone drifter is lonely and drifting, or that the character who lost all her family was sad.

Given that, there was far too much of the internal monologue in the first place. It added nothing to the story, so cut it out. Do the readers really need pages of whining to work out that a 16 year old girl who is thrown into a life or death struggle might be slightly stressed? Show, don't tell.

NOW I've moved on to two university lecture courses. One, on bacteria, is just for fun (and it is from "The Modern Scholar" series, hence American, hence aimed at a fairly low level. Not "Oxford Very Short Introduction" which is English and aimed at people dozens of IQ points up the scale.)

The other course is on programming in R, which is an actual course I'm enrolled in, with exams and assignments and (hopefully) graduation.

12-09-2012

Tales of A Moral High Ground that never was

We all know the story, back in the 1950s and 1960s everything was good and wholesome, and TV was completely G-rated, and the worst, most outrageous behaviour that was ever heard of was some people kissing with their mouths open... with their spouse... behind locked doors.

Of course the only proof we have that this is true is stories told by the people from that time, and as they can't even remember where their socks are these days, this should be regarded with suspicion.

So on the weekend I was visiting a car show*, and I saw a big screen TV playing music videos from the 1950s. Elvis in fact.

Music videos are often held up as the absolute nadir of modern filth. The auto-erotically-asphixiated canary in the blackest coal mine of our souls.

So how do the fabulous fifties hold up?

Well Elvis was wearing a suit. Had a neat haircut. And was gently swaying as he sung without any visible pelvic thrusting or groin grabbing. Hmmmm.... This sort of matches the clean-cut, respectable image we've been spoonfed so far.

BUT

In the background were girls, in bikinis, wiggling. And not just the sort of "I am wiggling to show how hot I look" style wiggling of a modern music video. This was a sort of passive, docile, "I am wiggling because a man told me to, I don't enjoy it at all but it's not my place to speak up." The wiggling I was seeing here was just nasty. These girls weren't showing off, they weren't trying to exert their personality or seduce anyone. Their facial expressions said clearly that they were just decorative furniture and that was their lot in life.

The '50s were sick.

Further Proof

Listen to the actual lyrics of an Elvis song. Eg."A little less conversation, a little more action."

What does this mean? It means "Shut up, take your clothes off, and get to work. I want séx not prattle."

Of course modern songs can be much the same. "More than words can say" is of course exactly the same message.

I'll just note in conclusion that these are both considered decent, wholesome, even romantic songs, while "You shook me all night long." by AC/DC is raucous barbarism. Nevertheless, it is the raucous barbarians who seem to regard women as independent actors who make their own decisions and might even be in charge of a relationship.

*Car Show

The car show was an unexpected bonus for going to dear wife's shop to help out on Sunday. Most of the cars were Hot Rods. Meaning that they were originally dating from pre-1948 (though a few early 1950s examples creep in these days) but are completely rebuilt with engines from the 1960s, 1970s, or in some cases the 1990s, and many components are in fact brand new and freshly made to fit the old vehicles.

As an engineering exercise this is great fun. But it leads to a problem.

The problem here is that they get a 1928 Ford, remake the panels in Fibreglass, put in a 1969 Chevrolet motor, with 2008 Pistons, valves, cams, manifolds and a 2011 copy of a 1971 model Carburettor. They then have custom made interior, 2012 wheels and tyres, 1987 Jaguar Suspension and a 1989 Toyota Gearbox. Which is fine, except they still claim to be driving a 1928 Ford! With this sort of custom made sports car, they naturally get very good performance, but they then use this as an example to claim that old cars are better than modern ones.

Of the cars on show, the ones that I was most interested in were the most modern ones. Even if some of the earlier ones were faster in a straight line. (Or not. They were all highly modified and I don't know the actual performance.) And the utes of course.

05-09-2012

You don't have to be MAD to work here, but we figure it's on the cards

Yesterday we all got a message from our HR department proudly announcing a wonderful new benefit for all employees. Imagine our disappointment when it turns out to be... free counselling. And not financial planning type counselling, or how to improve your turning kicks, but instead it turns out to be psychological counselling.

The general feeling is that management thinks we are all nuts.

Except of course the local representative from North America. Given that they are all crazy over there, they are used to everyone needing counselling and his complaint is that instead of an outside contractor the company should have hired a full time shrink.

31-08-2012

History Books

I've been reading a lot of history books lately.

BAD: I didn't read past the first few chapters

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson This was sort of pitched as an adult book, but it was really aimed at school children. Primary school children. Any book where the author starts off by proudly announcing he isn't comfortable with scientific notation is really decades below the level I want to read at.

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes Sort of a history book, at least as first. It came out reading more like an infomercial than anything else. The information may have been correct, but I'm not going to sit through something that reads like the better class of spam email. The author is clearly selling something.

GOOD: Happy to read the whole thing

The Incas: Inside an American Empire A nice introduction to a major civilization that is usually relegated to one line in a list of victims. Provided an interesting comparison to...

12 Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth A nice introduction to another major civilization that is usually relegated to one line in a list of victims. Both the Byzantines and the Incas showed a huge, common flaw in their political system: They did not have a smooth, regular system of political succession. When the old emperor dies, there is a struggle for power among the relatives. This leads to civil war, coups, and a logical trap where any new emperor is FORCED to kill off most of his relatives to stop them rising against him. This logically means that any relatives are FORCED to rise against him, in self defense. Likewise, any successful general is likely to stage a coup and overthrow the emperor. This means that the emperor MUST kill any successful general. This means that any successful general MUST try to stage a coup, in self defense...

The final result is an empire in which civil war breaks out at least once every generation. And one that cannot have any successful generals besides the emperor himself. As soon as such an empire finds itself fighting a group that does have stable government, they are immediately at a huge disadvantage.

In both cases, the empires in question succeeded to some extent because all their enemies were at least as badly structured as they were. The Persian empire for example was apparently also subject to the same series of coups, palace intrigues and civil wars. Of course both empires proceeded to deliberately encourage any such uprisings that might occur in their rival.

Hence when a small group of motivated Spanish pirates, or desert arabs, finaly got their acts together, they were able to split these huge empires apart and basically just move in and take over.

(I am left wondering just how this insight can be compared to modern governance structures. I have first hand experience with inherently flawed corporate structures, where significant amounts of company time and resources are wasted because of bad management systems. And we can all point to flaws in our democratic systems where vast resources are wasted to ensure that regular elections are won by those currently in power. The most reasuring aspect is that it IS so obvious that there are so many flaws. It's the people who can't see the flaws that really get caught out. Of course, we may be missing our worst flaws...)

Behold the Mighty Dinosaur by John Kricher It is a bit childish in places, aimed at a first year undergraduate audience. But there is enough new material in there to keep me interested.

EXCELLENT: I will keep and read again

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman Obviously, anything written by Feynman is brilliant.

Oxford Very Short Introduction to Ancient Warfare Now THIS is ADULT non-fiction. The author goes through and explains what is believed about some subject: Greek Phalanx combat for example. THEN he stops and explains why many scholars disagree. And he gives various arguments on both, (or all three, or four!) sides of the argument, showing how different evidence can be interpreted in different ways. Once you get beyond the basics, just about any science has areas of controversy, and places where we just don't have the data to draw strong conclusions. Most popularizations skim over all this and dumb it down. Well I don't want the dumbed down version. Give me the hard core stuff. I'll be looking for this Oxford Very Short Introduction series in the future.

MEANWHILE

For father's day, Dad got a 5 volume diary/biography/novel/whatever about a Turkish spy in Paris. Printed in 1625! I can't wait to get my (washed, and maybe gloved) hands on it. It if all in old timey fcript.

30-08-2012

Another conversation with my boss

Boss: So I finished jury duty at about 2 o'clock. And I thought that I could come back to work. OR I could play soccer with my dog.

Me: So who won?

Boss: ...

Boss: He's sneaky

27-08-2012

Yet Another Movie, Again: Batman and Robin

Over at a friends house, he had himself a new cable TV system. Not the local overpriced Foxtell, he got one from China that works perfectly well in Australia and costs a tiny fraction as much. Obviously Foxtell doesn't want anyone knowing about this option.

Anyway, I sat down and a Batman movie was on. One I hadn't seen! The one with Arnold as Dr Freeze. So I eagerly watched it.

It was rubbish. Complete garbage. The writers didn't seem to have seen any of the earlier movies, or indeed read any of the comics written since about 1985. Instead it was apparently based on the Adam West TV show from the 1960s. But without realizing that the TV show didn't take itself seriously.

It took about 5 minutes to see why this movie killed off that particular stream of Batman movies.

A related problem was that Robin was in it. Robin was never a good character. In fact I cannot think of any movie that is improved by having a young sidekick in it. A good rule of thumb is that any movie where anyone under the age of about 16 has more than 2 or 3 lines is not going to be good.

Don't be fooled by those many American movies where the main characters are supposedly highschool students. For one thing, Americans mature very slowly, so a highschool character could be 17 or 18 years old without having to be kept back a year or two. Which is why they can drive cars to school.

For another thing, the Character might be supposed to be 17, but the actors are typically in their 20s. Which is why "Kickass" for example is a decent film. In fact it's much, much better than "Batman and Robin".

Meanwhile, the next morning

I discovered that an iPhone recharger draws enough current to completely drain a car battery. (Which implies that a charged iPhone has enough grunt to start my car. But I don't have the right app for that.)

So I walked to the nearest service station, which had apparently gone out of business.

So I walked to the next one... which was open but had no batteries. Neither did the one after that. By this time the distance involved would have been pretty difficult to manage with a new car battery, so I gave up and walked back.

The car was still not starting. So I gave up and rang NRMA. I discovered a major benefit for having "Doctor" on my membership. "Ooh, Doctor! Are you on call? We'll give you a priority service."

They turned up in about 40 minutes, and soon I was on my way with a new battery and a $182 charge on my credit card.

Now I find that the car starts VERY quickly, and the starter motor no longer goes "Nuh, nuh, nuh, Brrmmm." Instead it's now going "NanaBrrmmm." So I guess the battery was slowly dieing for a long time, and the phone charger just kicked it over the edge.

27-07-2012

Yet Another Movie: Batman

Spoilers

Good. Not as good as number 2 in the series, but isn't that often the case?

I did like the catwoman. They did very well to have her seem realistic. Even with the little cat ears, at no time did she ever seem silly, or even like she was in a costume. None the less, she DOES end up in a cat costume... effectively. And looks GOOD.

Bain on the other hand... The original Bain character had, as a MAJOR part of his character, the continuous supply of strength and muscle enhancing drugs into his body. That was how he was so strong, AND how he was driven insane. Having a Bain character that misses out on this is like having a Joker character that doesn't dress as a clown.

Then, the beginning and ending of the story seemed to be lifted from Frank Miller's Dark Knight story, being mashed together with the Bain based Knightfall story... the result was coherent and logical, but of course I personally would have preferred a series of 10, 3-hour movies to tell both stories completely... I guess that would have cost billions to do though. :(

Supercars

An off-hand comment the other day got me thinking. Supercars are a skiamorph.

From The Free Dictionary

pronounced /'skju??m?rf/ SKEW-?-morf, or skeuomorphism (Greek: skeuos—vessel or tool, morphe—shape)[1] is a derivative object which retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original.[2] Skeuomorphs may be deliberately employed to make the new look comfortably old and familiar,[3] such as copper cladding on zinc pennies or computer printed postage with circular town name and cancellation lines. Physical skeuomorphs

Historically, high-status items, such as metal tableware, were often recreated for the mass market using ceramics, which were a cheaper material. In certain cases, efforts were made to recreate the rivets in the metal originals by adding pellets of clay to the pottery version.

In the modern era, cheaper plastic items often attempt to mimic more expensive wooden and metal products though they are only skeuomorphic if new ornamentation references original functionality, such as molded screw heads in molded plastic items. Blue jeans have authentic-looking brass rivet caps covering the functional steel rivet beneath, and a pocket watch pocket; digital cameras play a recorded audio clip of a conventional SLR camera mirror slap and shutter opening and closing. Such ornamentation is not necessarily non-functional: the watch pocket is now used for coins, and the camera shutter sound is used to indicate to subject and photographer when the taking of the picture is complete. Ribbing on a hunting knife handle (skeuomorphic of vines binding wooden handles to a metal or stone blade) adds grip.

Other examples:

Decorative stone features of Greek temples such as mutules, guttae, and modillions that are derived from true structural/functional features of the early wooden temples,

Lumps of clay added to traditional pottery which used to have a female form, in the place where the breasts would have been,[4]

Injection-molded plastic sandals that replicate woven strips of leather,

Various spoke patterns in automobile hubcaps and wheels leftover from carriage wheel construction,

Fake woodgrain printing on thousands of modern items of plastic, Formica, or pressboard furniture,

Fake stitching in plastic items that used to be made of leather or vinyl and actually stitched together,

Tiny, non-functional handles on small maple syrup jugs,

A fiberglass boat with striations made to look like wood planking,

The non-functional supercharger scoop on the second generation Mini-Cooper,

Elaborate lacing on children's Velcro-secured shoes,

Bowsprits mounted on the bows of steamships (which, having no sails, require no rigging),

Digital depictions of buttons, sliders, dials, turning pages and other mechanical controls on the buttonless surface of touchscreen devices.

Jiggling needles of the tachometer and speedometer gauges at startup on the digital screen display in modern semi truck cabs,

Fake colonial window pane muntins trapped between the large, twin glass panels of modern sealed energy-efficient windows,

Impressive, large-diameter concentric assemblages of black and silver "hardware" encircling the tiny objective lenses on most consumer-grade digital still and video cameras.

ANYWAY

Now that everyone knows what a skiamorph is... supercars are a skiamorph.

In the 1960s and 1970s, and up to about midway through the 1980s, it was really tricky to build a fast car.

Engines were difficult to get any power out of, unless you built huge great V8s and V12s. The Americans did this fairly cheaply, but then stuck them in normal shaped cars, which ran into the problem of...

Tyres which were in those days made by mixing tree sap with a bit of soot and hoping the result would last 100 score furlongs. The cheapest, hardest, commercial vehicle tyres of 2012 would be considered racing spec wonders back in the day. This was further exarcebated by....

Suspension Cheap, leaf spring, live axle rubbish does very little to hold the slippery and fragile tyres of the time to ground. Even the most advanced Euro stuff was borderline by todays standards because of the ...

Chassis Stiffness which meant that the most advanced suspension available was bolted to a car body which visibly distorted as you drove around corners. So even if the suspension was correctly designed, put any load on the car and it wasn't correctly designed any more.

Meanwhile, they themselves were operating under a skiamorph from an even earlier time, when such cars were used mostly for racing, which had different engine capacity classes. So having the most power from the smallest internal engine capacity was considered cool. It is not known why internal cylinder capacity was chosen, rather than some useful measure such as engine mass or external engine dimensions. Hence they had

High Reving, no low down torque engines which meant that even powerful engines were touchy and prone to stalling if you try to drive around at low revs.

Put it all together and

You find that to make a seriously quick car you needed

  1. A great big V8 or V12
  2. Which you needed to put in the geometrical center of the car, to minimize the effect of all that weight (unless you didn't plan on going around corners, see America, United States of)
  3. It was too high to see over, what with "carburetors" which were a kind of primitive, clockwork fuel injection that didn't really work very well and was impossible to reprogram with any sort of 8 bit precision.
  4. So you had to put the seats in front of the engine, and could only fit two in.
  5. Now you couldn't see out the back, because of the huge engine
  6. Because the engine is behind the cabin, there is no cooling air so you have huge scoops on the sides and it still overheats every 10 minutes
  7. Because the tyres are so rubbish you needed the center of gravity to be about 5cm off the ground or you wouldn't make it around the corner, so the car was only knee high.
  8. Because nobody could control a decent power distribution to all 4 wheels, you ran it as a rear wheel drive
  9. A rear wheel drive wants the weight (ie. the huge engine) as rearward as possible to try to get some friction out of the gripless tyres
  10. You need to keep the revs up to avoid stalling, but primitive gearboxes have only 4 or 5 close packed gears. To have the high gears able to reach high speed means the low gears were high too, which meant that low speed driving was almost impossible

And so you get... the Lamborghini Contach. Just about impossible to get in or drive for anyone old enough to afford it. Slow and dangerous in city traffic. No internal room or luggage space. Cramped overheating engine bay. You can't control it in slippery conditions because it's rear wheel drive and you need to keep the revs up to avoid stalling.

The thing is though, almost all these requirements have disappeared.

  1. You can get all the power you need with a hot turbo 4 or turbo 6. Both Lotus and Porsche realized this in the late 1970s.
  2. Modern tyres, mean that you can corner much, MUCH harder without that super low center of gravity.
  3. Modern transmission designs (computer controlled if possible) mean that you can have 4 wheel drive with seemless power transfers. So you get 100% traction no matter where the engine is.
  4. Because the engine is small, and you can put it in the front, all that huge cooling problem goes away.
  5. Now you can see in all directions
  6. A modern, multispeed gearbox gives a wide range of gears, low gears for low speeds and high gears for high speeds.
  7. A combination of a flexible engine, and flexible gearing, now means you can drive at low speeds.
  8. Controllablility at Low speeds combined with 4wd means slippery conditions are OK
  9. Controllablility at Low speeds combined with good all-round visibility means city streets are OK

So by the mid 1980s all this was starting to be possible. The first to put it together was Audi, not a traditional supercar maker at all. But their 4wd Quattro with a turbo 5 cylinder up the front was a 4 seater sedan, which 98% of the time would THRASH a Lamborghini or Ferrari of that era. Only on a smooth, dry, racetrack. Where no traffic needed to be worried about, and no low speeds or low grip, and city council buses were not present, would the traditional supercar win.

By the end of that decade, cars from Audi, Ford, Lancia, Subaru, Mitsubish, Toyota and Nissan were severely trouncing the old fashioned style supercars, and doing it without all the compromises that had once been mandatory.

And yet... real supercars have stuck to the same old designs. Porsche tried to get out of it with the 959, and Lotus tried to escape with the M100 Elan. Porsche REALLY tried to break the mould with the front engined 924 turbo, 944 turbo, and 968 turbo, and they seemed to be working. Go back and read a car comparison from the mid 1980s (try The Espirit Road Tests) and reviewers at the time were saying that the 944 turbo was simply a better, faster, supercar than the Ferrari 328 or Lotus Espirit or whatever.

These days of course, that old, outclassed Ferrari is still regarded as a object of worship, while the 944 turbo is generally considered one step above the Nissan 200sx equivalent, while being older and less reliable and more expensive to own and... damn it, get the Nissan.

Porsche and Lotus have gone back to mid engined, impractical things. Though they were never as bad as Ferrari or Lamborghini. Who never even THOUGHT about making a turbo 4 powered model. Indeed there is now many more, new, bigger, bigger engined, even more impractical models from Bugatti and Koeniggsegg and Pagini and others. Even Audi, who started the revolution, now has mid engined Contach style supercars.

Why? Because the old style is awesome. It looks so right. A Lamborghini Aventador looks like an alien spaceship. An EVIL alien spaceship. It is beautiful though. As were many skiamorph designs, such as the Parthenon Temple in Athens, which in the right light is nearly as good looking as a nice Lamborghini.

23-07-2012

Alice in Wonderland

After the surprisingly good performance of the latest Snow White movie, I proceeded to track down the recent Alice in Wonderland movie. I found three things:

1. There is a surprising number of Alice in Wonderland pørnographic movies. Maybe it's the name "Alice"?

2. The movie really should be watched in 3D. 3D home theatre projectors are now available for $1000 and falling.

3. The movie, filled with talking animals, homicidal playing cards, Fruminuous Bandersnatches, size changing foodstuffs, and a fire breathing, flying, dragon-like Jabberwock... led dear wifey to ask "Is this based on a true story?"

To be fair, we recently watched The Three Musketeers, which apparently IS based on a true story. Or rather based on a movie that was based on a cartoon, that was based on another movie, that was based on a series of books, that were based on a true story. Or at least on French history. Assuming France really exists at all and isn't a product placement creation of the Champagne industry.

On the downside, she's taken to calling me Tweedledum. Or at least Twin Two, which is the closest she can manage to the name.

Epic

Meanwhile, I'm wondering what distinguishes a novel/movie/TV show as being EPIC.

I've concluded that it requires two factors.

1. It must be long. At least noticeably longer than normal. So at least 3 movies long or a very fat novel.

2. It must have something that deeply appeals to people. One good sign is that if there is a fan base who are prepared to sit down and work out a coherent storyline that somehow explains all the apparent plot holes and contradictions that the original work has. For example, there are multiple Star Wars back-stories that manage, via a fairly complex narrative, to present the 6 existing movies in such a way that they all make sense and that all the little loose ends get tied up.* Likewise for those brave souls who've worked out how to shoehorn Prometheus into the Aliens universe. It's even possible that someone has done this for Twilight or Avatar. Luckily that wasn't necessary for Back to the Future which was created with a aura of perfection and could not ever require correction. Sort of like Firefly, or Ghostbusters...

Fortunately there never was any sequel to The Matrix. NO! There wasn't! No! NO! NO!!! I'm. Not. Listening. Shutup.

* The secret is that between Episodes 3 and 4, R2D2 and Chewbacca were part of an underground courier system that shuttled Rebel communications back and forth accross the galaxy. Neither C3PO nor Han had any idea what their companions were up to, which is why they seem fairly clueless as to how their "luck" kept happening to get them into all sorts of weird situations. Note that Han "won" the millenium falcon in game of cards and just happened to end up with one of the fastest ships in the galaxy. A ship that in Episode 3 was shown to be the property of the Wookies...

This STILL doesn't explain why everyone left Anikin's mum as a slave. Anikin was a junior Jedi, a powerful organization that had influence throughout the galaxy. He had friends who were senior Jedi, he had another friend who was a queen of an entire planet. For the price of one hairdo she could have purchased his mum, freed her, and then presented her as a present to the young Jedi who she was trying to get some underage nookie from. It certainly would have made him grateful. It just never seemed to cross anyone's mind. (Unless I suppose she figured that leaving him mumless would make him more vulnerable to the attentions of an older woman... but that seems to be way, way beyond the strategic reasoning that she displays in any other aspect of her life.)

10-07-2012

The Fat Years: A book review

An interesting book. It's sort of science fiction, but set in 2013, (though written in 2009 or so) so not very advanced.

And it's sort of a utopia, or maybe a distopia. People disagree which. Which gives some idea of how confusing the book is.

And the book is really about current events. Which gives some idea of how confusing current events are.

And the last 1/4 of the book is one long monologue by one guy. And it's the best part. Really weird.

Recommendation: Worth reading... but be CAREFUL where you read it.

09-07-2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

OK. This was a different movie. And yet fairly good. One is left wondering why the "hero" dumping his faithful wife for a younger, but otherwise similar, woman is depicted as an act of growth and improvement on his part... but then I guess that by the standards of Hollywood, (or the British equivalent) this is viewed as a normal thing that everyone does every couple of years. To a movie producer, NOT having regular divorces is the weird behaviour.

I could then go on about cognitive dissonance and self justification, but that would be to descend into psychoanalysis by remote telepathy... and there is far too much of that in today's world. Particularly on the internet, it is hard to read anything without someone justifying their position via the process of telepathic psychoanalysis of those who disagree with them, and this always strikes me as being the exact behaviour of a 7 year old calling the mean teacher a "retard" when too much homework is assigned. Only the older children have learned longer words, so instead of calling the offending teacher "gay" or "stupid" they instead use phrases like "he must be overcompensating for his suppressed homosexuality" or "a classic case of substituting the state for a father figure" and think that this is a conclusive argument.

03-07-2012

Coraline

With my nephew staying with us for a couple of weeks, we've been watching lots more movies than normal (ie. more than zero). The other night we watched some romance about chefs (?! What kind of young lad chooses to watch a romance? Not even a romantic comedy, this was just pure romance.) And then I saw Coraline on the list and insisted on that.

I was not disappointed.

This is the OTHER sort of movie that is an order of magnitude better than what you'd get even in the late 1990s. Like action movies, modern "children's animation" is technically better than anything, ever.

And the writing and direction is up to or exceeding the standards of 1930s and 40s Bugs Bunny. This is not sarcasm, that old Warner Bros stuff was very good, but the modern stories are just as good on the detail, and present longer, more complex and coherent stories. They have totally escaped the lame "moral" that much of children's writing is lumbered with. Not that they don't have moral lessons, but they aren't a big yellow flag that the story stops every 5 minutes to wave at the kiddies in case some of the retarded ones haven't caught on yet. (See Avatar for a supposedly adult story that didn't grasp this basic point.)

Then we went and saw Prometheus. Grrrr... Once again there was brilliant cinematography, let down by less than stellar writing. Not as bad as Avatar (which is starting to get as cliched as "not as gay as twilight") but still it's annoying that the children's cartoon had a better story.

28-06-2012

Snow White

Dear wife and I wanted to watch a movie, so we had a choice of Men in Black III and Snow White. The Snow White movie didn't have a number, but it is about the 17th movie of that story so it really should.

Now both of these stories presume the viewer has some idea of the back-story, so I got Men in Black [I] and Mirror Mirror out for dear wife to watch at home. She agreed they were both good stories, so in the 1 week window I have before she forgets the stories again we went to the cinema. MIB III wasn't on that night, so we saw Snow White.

Even in comparison with the Mirror Mirror from only a few years ago, the latest Snow White is a stunning bit of creation. We didn't see the 3D version, but we really should have. It would have been fantastic.

One can argue that music, for example, isn't really progressing. Katie Perry isn't really any better than Brittany Spears, or The Spice Girls, or Madonna, or the Beatles, or Glenn Miller for that matter. OK, she shows more naked skin in her videos, but who wants to see Glen Miller's naked behind anyway?*

But movies? A good 2012 action movie just blows away anything from 2000. And movies from 2000 made stuff from 1990 look amateurish. By the time you are back in the 1980s you can only bear to watch light hearted stuff: Back to the Future or Ghostbusters, because even The Terminator looks like a home made production by modern standards.

As is well known, action movies were only invented in 1976 with Star Wars. There were movies from before then, but they didn't have any ACTION in them. There might be a gun fight, and then 30 minutes of people walking around, talking, looking at scenery (which you can't appreciate because the picture quality in those days is about phone camera quality in today's terms) then another 10 second fist fight, and then the characters sit and talk for the rest of the movie. Basically only love stories and comedy work from before the mid '70s.

This final issue isn't a matter of technology. The idea of having an action movie with lots of action in it was perfectly possible in the 1950s, they just didn't do it.

*You'll note that the only area in which Katie Perry is better than Cole Porter is in the videos, which is a (very short) movie anyway, not the music.

13-06-2012

Gecko Part 5: The Banishment

As menioned below, this year we've had a plague of Leaf Tailed Geckos invade our house. And my job is to get them out before dear wifey sees them. Otherwise there will be screams and wails and gnashing of teeth.

So last night I saw another one. Or maybe the same one? Do Geckos home? I've been dropping them off about 800 meters away from my house, but I suppose it could be skittering back home again.

This time I dropped him in the recycling bin just before the truck picked it up and took him away to another suburb.

That'll learn 'm.

12-06-2012

Super Slow Training

After two months of doing daily 1 arm chin attempts, I've taken a break off heavy weights and tried something from the opposite end of the scale.

Super Slow training is the (crazy) idea that you can build muscle using fairly light weights, if you take each movement so slowly that it still exhausts your muscles after a handful of reps. There are a few different flavours, but most agree with something like a 10 seconds up, 10 seconds down sort of tempo.

This is then combined into a "each muscle gets worked once per week" sort of HIT training system.

As this sounds like the complete opposite to what I was doing (ultra heavy, do it every day if not twice a day) it seemed like what I needed to have a break.

Conclusion: After two months on Super Slow, my lean body mass is going nowhere, and my strength is declining. Oh, my super slow strength is increasing (as advertised), but my actual, real world, not doing it as a circus trick, strength is down. I'm fairly sure that the "SS strength increase" (which is what promotors point to as evidence that it works) is simply a matter of skill, learning to do such a silly strange sort of movement that you haven't tried before.

I have not found anyone who has a non-biased serious look at SS. Either the people looking at it are true believers, or they dismiss it out of hand as stupid. The true believers point to many advantages:

So what do I think? I think that Super Slow training is better than watching the home shopping network as far as muscle building is concerned. So if you get a group of people whose previous exercise program involved a remote control, then Super Slow will show improvements in muscle and fitness. At this point it's probably just as good as anything, which is what their results show.

However, to someone who is beyond that stage, you need to lift something a bit too heavy for a 20 second rep time.

I'm going to go back to Doggcrapp training. Maybe with a shoulder press daily specialization. (I've just put together a shoulder press lockout rig. It seems fun and it's indoors so I can do it daily.)

08-06-2012

The Stupidest Angel: Michael Brooks

I just started reading The Stupidest Angel by Michael Brooks. I have to stop driving* at times I'm laughing so hard.

*By reading I mean listening to an audiobook. Maybe I need a verb for that? Audioing maybe?

07-06-2012

Coffee Grinder

Dear wife was enamoured of the coffee at a cafe in Top Ryde, and so asked if they had the coffee beans available for her to buy. They did, but only in unground form. So I looked around to see if I could get a grinder.

Ebay had a whole range of grinders, from about $5 to about $1300, but there was one for $12 that seemed a good buy. For one thing it was an actual grinder, using grinding wheels, and not merely a high speed blender with rotating blades that relied on smashing the beans. Secondly, it had a handle to turn, rather than relying on a cheap and probably unreliable electric motor.

However, when it turned up it was not all I hoped.

It does indeed grind the beans quite well, though the output tray is stupidly designed and some coffee falls on the ground no matter what you do.

More seriously, it grinds the beans at a rate of about 1 bean per minute. This means it takes about 10 minutes of turning the handle to get enough for one cup.

This is the coffee from one minute of grinding as the machine was delivered to me.

Close inspection of the mechanism shows that the gap between the grinding wheels where the beans slip in is too small. Beans can only fit in if they are turned the right way, which means most of the time you are grinding away at nothing.

So what to do? You get out the dremel of course. A high speed grinding tool will soon make those gaps in the wheels big enough to suck in full sized coffee beans.

This is the coffee from one minute of grinding after I fixed the wheels.

P.S. It was still dropping beans everywhere. I realized that the original assembly was wrong.

The factory had assembled it: Lower-Grinding-Wheel/Upper-Grinding-Wheel/Wooden-Case/Air-Gap-that-beans-get-stuck-in/Metal-Cover/Feed-Hopper

With a bit more dremel work, this time to the Wooden Case, I reassembled it to be: Lower-Grinding-Wheel/Wooden-Case/Upper-Grinding-Wheel/Metal-Cover/Feed-Hopper

Note that assembling it this way removed the stupid air gap that beans would get stuck in. And it fit together perfectly. Suspiciously as though this was how it was originally designed, and that the factory had changed it to make it easier to assemble, and who cares if you now have stale beans lodged in the grinder for weeks only to fall out whenever you moved it.

05-06-2012

Book Review: Snuff

Snuff: by Terry Pratchett. Pratchett is one of my favourite authors, but I found this book disappointing. The overall theme was just a repeat of his previous book Unseen Academicals, which itself was rehashing themes from The Truth, and many other previous works. Namely that Racism is bad ....mmmkay?.

Yeah, yeah. Racism is bad. Everyone who can read has heard this a thousand times before, move on to something new.

The actual plot of this book is your basic detective novel... but with no mystery. Or at least, there is a mystery crime that the policeman doesn't know about, but everyone else does. Including lots of people who are horrified at it and want it to stop. So as soon as one of these upstanding citizens comes up with the brilliant idea of Hey! Why don't we TELL the policeman about the crime? then it's just a matter of arresting the bad guys.

It is after much careful analysis that I react thusly: Like, Durr!

Part of the problem may be that I've grown up and am now reading more adult fiction. Which leads to an interesting question. (More interesting than the plot of Snuff.)

What is Adult Fiction?

There are many answers to this, and I disagree with most of the ones I've heard. A sample listing would be

Obviously I prefer a different view. My definition is:

Complex, multilayered storylines, in which characters are developed to have virtues and flaws, (sometimes virtues that ARE flaws and viceversa), there are uncaused results, causes that don't have results, loose ends, and unresolved problems. Characters on both sides of a conflict are shown to have good, sterling characters (with some flaws). These good characters have allies, and sometimes friends, who are often quite bad people (again on both sides of a conflict). Of course conflicts usually have more than two sides. Sometimes as many sides as there are people sentinent beings in the story. Sometimes more.

As an example, the Honor Harrington books started off great. One of the real strong points was how people who were on the "enemy forces" opposing the hero were nonetheless often shown to be good, true, smart, effective characters in their own right. And then sometimes killed. Good people killing good people is a real part of war, and adult literature shows this. Another advantage of the early books was how Honor herself was shown to have real faults. Some of which she struggled to overcome, some of which she ignored.

As the series went on, the main character Honor became less and less of a good literary character, and more of a "Mary Sue" (a character who is nearly perfect and acts as a sort of wish fulfilment fantasy). She starts off as a "not very attractive", lonely, naval officer whose career had sort of plateued because of her poor interpersonal skills. By the time I stopped reading she was a Billionaire, Royalty, Military Hero of several planets, Admiral, mother, sex symbol, bionically enhanced genius with superpowers. At this point it was becoming silly.

Likewise the Anita Blake books. She starts off a fairly decent, hard-bitten detective type, and evolves into a sex-goddess secret agent succubus who can kill super-vampires with her mental powers. So what's the point? Like superman, you need some kryptonite just to have any challenge at all, and at that point it's just contrived.

Getting back to Pratchett, I find that while he does have multilayered stories, the characters are becoming more stereotypical (either good or bad) and the themes are just repeating themselves. I'd like to see a real conflict between sympathetic sides. Something like improved trade meaning that a choice has to be made between allowing imports to send local workers out of work, or allowing foreign workers to go bankrupt. Have good and bad people on both sides. The newspaper is on one side, the wizards on the other. The post office changes sides halfway through. Then the bodies start turning up.

That would be a much better story. But it might end up too hard for the younger readers who still make up a big part of Pratchett's audience. So I'll have to get my real literature from other sources.

09-05-2012

Enforced Break

Well that was 6 weeks of... stress. Basically our entire company tore itself to pieces. And then put itself back together. So now I'm sitting at exactly the same desk working on the same projects. And nothing has changed except that I now work for an Irish company, rather than an Australian one.

As I described it to the girl in the local coffee shop The dolphins made a break for it. So it was all hands on deck for an emergency bug hunt to track them all down and get them back into captivity before any made it to the open ocean. Because once they escape into the Deep Blue Sea we don't know what they'll do. It was a bad time, Nathan didn't make it... a bottlenose got him in the pancreas... they are a several hundred kilogram predator when you think about it.

I may have subtley shifted the perspective I was viewing reality from while I told the story to her, but it gave her the correct overall impression. Or at least it might have. Who knows what coffee girls think?

Now I just have to remember what it was I was doing before the furseals picked the locks.

Meanwhile, I did make a couple of observations, which I will relate:

Second Thoughts

I just happened to see this in a shopping center. There were two young women, one had just had a baby, and the other was clearly about to. And there was the baby. And the pregnant girl was looking at the baby like a rabbit at a python.

And then the baby would start shrieking.

And the pregnant girl looked absolutely terrified. She just couldn't breathe. And the actual mother would ignore the screaming kid, who would notice that it wasn't working, and go back to gurgling happily.

Pregnant girl relaxes from "terrified" back to "deeply, deeply worried".

Cycle repeats.

Movie Review: The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers A story about 4 swordsmen. They got the noun and the number wrong but it's still a fun steampunk adventure.

Highly enjoyed not just by me but also by a group I would not have picked as steampunk types. Which just goes to prove that steampunk rules and the 19th, 18th, and in this case stretching to the 17th centuries could have rocked if they just tried harder. (Technically this could be early enough to be considered clockwork punk. But I'm going for steam on the grounds that Savery and Newcomen Were making commercial steam engines in England by this time century. And they were using cannon not crossbows.)

Which leads to the disquieting question Of how will future generations regard us as falling down on the job? Project Orion is an obvious failure. So is the Wang cannon. DARPA is working hard to get things right. Flying hummers and the like.

Interestingly it wasn't future tech that the musketeers encounter but older tech. Leonardo da vinci. Now HE was clockwork punk. I wonder what stuff he came up with that we still haven't done? If any.

Note: While reading a history book a few weeks later (War and Peace and War: Turchin) I was informed that the original Three Musketeers books were in fact based on a real person and real events. (The recent movie not so much.) And "The Musketeers" were really a band of special forces like soldiers who worked directly for the King. And the way the recent movie twisted the Duke of Buckingham from a good guy (in the books) to a bad guy (in the movie) actually meant it was now MORE historically accurate. Of course history tells us that EVERYONE was a bad guy by our standards.

Meanwhile, for some Dieselpunk, you can check out Flying Cloud which I've added to my links above. Dieselpunk being 1900 to 1939 type tech pushed to unhistorical limits.

Meanwhile, playing with a new toy

I discovered that a Dremel grinder is the perfect tool for removing callouses from your hands. Really.

26-03-2012

Italian Beer

While waiting for a party to start on Saturday, wifey and I spent some time in an Italian bar, overlooking the harbour. I tried some Italian beers, most of which tasted like... beer. In which case why am I paying $9 for a stubbie?

But then there was Chiostro. It was $13 or so, but it was something really DIFFERENT.

22-03-2012

Hunting Monsters II

This morning as I was going downstairs for my morning chinup workout, I spotted the MONSTER (read 15 cm gecko*) that dear wife has been terrified of for days. I grabbed a cardboard box and a broom but it proved difficult to control and escaped under a door.

A door that was lying flat on the ground.

A door that was lying flat on the ground with maybe a couple of hundred kg of fish tanks sitting on top of it. A door that I would have guessed would be pressed so hard against the concrete that you wouldn't be able to slide a piece of paper underneath it.

Geckos are tricky.

* This particular Gecko is pretty fancy. It's a mottled brown colour and looks like a dried leaf. And the tail looks like another head. A brief internet search reveals that it is a Southern Leaf-Tailed Gecko. So I guess I should have said that its tail looks like a leaf. But it still looks like another head to me.

21-03-2012

Take a Step Back

The whole "hydrogen economy" idea can be summed up as:

"We have a common, non-toxic oxide (water). This can be reduced via well established means to give the pure element (hydrogen) which can then be transported about easily. This can then be recombined with atmospheric hydrogen to reclaim (a large fraction of) the energy used in the first place."

Carbon is what we've been using up until now. But the oxide is a gas which means it

1. Is hard to gather to reduce again and close the cycle

2. Is difficult to prevent contaminating the atmosphere.

There is no fundamental reason that H2O is the only oxide we need consider. SiO2 is equally available in vast quantities, is non toxic and safe providing it isn't a very fine dust, and silicon is much, much easier to store than hydrogen.

Then it's just a matter of looking at all the readily available oxides and calculating stuff like kWh/kg and kwH/L and how easy it is to manipulate solids versus gases. (Sadly I can't think of any liquids. Mercury is neither chemically, toxicologically or distributionally suitable.)

See also Aluminium, Iron and Calcium.

Calcium does not need to be completely reduced. CaO reacts with both water and CO2 in exothermic, reversible reactions. CaO plus water gives about 1 megajoule/kg (of both reactants). The energy content of petrol is 32MJ/L, 1 Liter of petrol is about 720 grams so...44MJ/kg. Meaning that CaO plus water gives 1/44 the energy density of petrol. To replace a typical 50kg tank of petrol in a car would take 2.2 tonnes... not so great.

Back to my day job.

20-03-2012

Monster!

I got home last night to find dear wife barracaded in her study. Apparently there was a terrible creature in the lower part of the house and she was terrified to leave the room.

It was, after much questioning, apparently a lizard. About as long as her hand.

Given that the last lizard to terrorize the villiagers was at least twice that length, I would think this one could be dismissed with a casual reference about it eating bugs. But no. I had to seek it out and get rid of it. A lizard. That could hide in any one of about 9.3 million locations under our house.

It's still there, somewhere. I expect to recieve a terrified phone call any minute.

05-03-2012

Holiday Reading

I had a holiday. And by holiday I mean 12 hour work days, but working for dear wife. Though for three days at the end there it was mainly drinking and skindiving on a tropical island. Which isn't really work.

Of course this means that I didn't do any training for 10 days. Which is exactly the danger time: muscles have recovered to full strength, tendons and ligaments probably haven't. This is the situation where people lift record weights, and hurt themselves.

So on Sunday I did 120 chinups. Girls chinups (both arms, no added weight). This seems to have fatigued the muscles enough to put me back at my normal lifting weights, so I can't hurt myself when I got back to the normal workout.

63 Documents the Government Doesn't Want You to Read - Jesse Ventura

Yes. THAT Jesse Ventura.

I picked this up as a sort of joke, and a joke it is. But it's taken me until document 45 to realize what this book is. It's actually a book designed to minimize any worries you might have about the US government.

I mean this book is presented as a damning indictment of the US government, and the narrator claims to be presenting all sorts of dynamite information... but when you actually go through the documents you'll find they are the lamest, most soft core "scandals" you'll ever find.

The harshest and nastiest documents are a couple of really early ones. One from the Truman era about human medical experimentation, one from the Kennedy administration about faking incidents to provide an excuse for war. This is in keeping with the general trend for everything to be worse the further back in time you go.

The rest consist of three types of paper:

  1. Mild examples of government corruption or incompetent bullying of the sort that you'd find in any newspaper.
  2. Reports that discuss a subject that the narrator is terrified of (such as an FBI investigation of the possibility that share traders were operating with foreknowledge of the 9-11 attacks). But while the narrator is going on about such horrible possibilities, the actual report he is presenting as evidence concludes that nothing suspicious actually was found. Sure the report might be lying, but this is the evidence that he is putting forward, and it totally contradicts his story.
  3. As for option two, but this time the report doesn't even address the subject that the narrator is hyperventilating about. It is merely in the same general sphere of actions. For example a government paper directing government agencies to ensure that important data is safe from internet and power supply failure is presented as evidence that Barak Obama is planning on shutting down the internet.

In about half the cases, the papers are exactly the sort of thing that government SHOULD be doing. For example a paper directing the military to ensure that they have backup systems and backup command structures in case the main systems and people are damaged or killed. Well yes. That's exactly what the military should have. In my opinion any military that did not have muliple redundant systems to allow for continued control in a war situation should be prosecuted for dereliction of duty. That's what military are for.

I've concluded that this selection of 63 documents is SO lame, and SO unlikely to cause outrage that it must be deliberate. Honestly I could come up with 63 examples of worse stuff in a couple of days on the internet. Now most of this would be lower level stuff, police brutality videos and the like, not the behaviour of the president or the CIA. But it would be scarier than this.

So this book does, in fact, succeed in what it sets out to do. It does prove that the US government is out to pull the wool over the eyes of the populace. And this book proves it, because the only reason such a book could exist is if it was actually produced by government agents trying to whitewash their image.

The Dangerous Book for Boys

Dangerous? Dangerous? The most dangerous activity in this entire book is fishing. Admittedly fishing does involve sharp fishhooks, and possibly falling into the water, but as far as dangerous books are concerned this is pitiful.

There are some neat stories of individual adventure and some military history, but as far as dangerous is concerned... even as far as dangerous, but good, wholesome, oldfashioned activities like making rockets and launching them in the back yard, the fact is that 5 minutes on the internet will show any boy just what a weak, spineless, overlawyered excuse for a boys book this is.

Forget it.

13-02-2012

Broz Training 3

OK. I stayed up to 5 am Saturday morning drinking far too much. This happens when a friend's band has its last ever gig, and you are told about it 1 hour before, and it's in another town only two hour's drive away...

All I really remember was going from Pub to Pub as each once closed in turn. And a few quotes I noted in my phone:
My text from last night My best guess as to meaning
Imagn bent as sweat as me. That's he swear I am Imagine being as sweaty as me. That's how sweaty I am!
Are you with the band for the first time. Hey I'm wrapped with power cords here. The first time I was ever asked "Are you with the band?" I was able to point out that I was wrapped in power cords, what did he think?
Good dance or good looking person? ????
By the Rome you are drinking rum and come the song red redf wine makes you roll your w yor r and sehow your n. If you are drinking rum by the time "Red red wine" starts playing, you will sing along with heavily rolled "r"s and something something...
Cu 1 rum and all who sail on her!! N n Something about not liking rum I guess.
I am slip glad I'm catholic nacausr sitting in a. Nightclub watching the pickups I don't understand fuckinf fuckinf No translation necessary.

I did NOT do a workout on Saturday.

I was back in charge on Sunday though.

And this morning I was keen enough to add 10 sets of snatches and 10 sets of clean and press at the end of the chins. I should try to do that at least twice a week.

10-02-2012

Broz Training 2

OK. I stayed up to 1 am this morning. (Doing CAD drawings, for Dear Wife). Still managed my workout though.

09-02-2012

Painting and Stuff

Carpentry

The rear balcony railing finally rotted away, really rotted, so that if you leant against the railing it would collapse and drop you 3 meters to the ground below. (I caught myself before I went over.) So it was off to Bunnings for some timber. Fortunately the longest bit required was only 6 meters, which was not only the longest bits that Bunnings sell, but also just about the longest bit that I can legally carry in my ute. (Ute is just about 5 meters long, and you can have a 1 meter overhang out the back, if you tie a bright flag around the end. I used a safety vest as a flag.)

They offered me a choice of treated pine, for $49 a length, or sanded, treated, pine for about twice that. I took the cheap option, it looked sanded to me anyway. Then I grabbed some outdoors bolts (thick Zinc galvanizing to stop rust) and some paint. I described the project to the paint guy and he guessed I'd need a 2 liter can. (He was right. Absolutely right. THere was about 5 mm left in the bottom of the can when I finished the second coat.)

The only problems at all were

1. Holding up a 6 meter length of 150x45mm wood while marking out where the holes needed to be drilled. I needed to get Dear Wife to lend me an employee for while.

2. Cutting the angled ends at the correct angles where the horizontal sections met the bits than ran down the stairs. I assumed that the two bits would be the same angle. This required some extra cutting and some work with the power sander to get right.

Now... I can do dips again.

Broz Style Training

Meanwhile, starting on Monday the 16th Jan, I've been trying Broz style training. (That is the guy's actual name.) This is based on Bulgarian Olympic Weightlifting team's approach to weight training. To summarize:

  1. Pick some big, compound exercise. Originally this was the olympic lifts, other people have done competitive power lifting lifts, I chose Chinups to start with.
  2. Grab a light weight and do a set of 5, add 30 kg, do a set of 3, work up to sets of one on heavy weight adding weight at each set. So with Chinups I start with "girls chinups" (both arms) and no weight. And then go up from there.
  3. Work up to the heaviest single repetition you can do that day. You might have 3 to 6 attempts at the maxium weight. Use your brain, if it is bench presses or deadlifts then multiple attempts you can't do might (literally) kill you.
  4. After that, take 30 kg off and do sets of 3 for 10 sets.
  5. Do this EVERY DAY. Maybe TWICE A DAY. Or more.

A good summary of the approach is here though I didn't find this particular site until I was looking just now. I found the idea on Chaos and Pain and from there went to John Broz's own website (which is vague and useless) and various discussion forums which proved quite useful (surprisingly).

Naturally, much of the discussions revolve around how this approach (lifting really heavy, for serious volume, every day up to 17 sessions per week, seems like it will be far too much. There are many schools of thought that push towards working a muscle no more than twice a week, or once, or less. The Broz attitude is that these people are wimps who can't handle hard work. And that the secret is to never have any time off at all. (Strictly speaking, there are breaks, but they are every few months, not after every session.)

When you start this, you find it pretty hard. The recommendation is to work up to it, but as I was already doing something like 4 to 5 workouts a week, I just jumped in and went to 7 (actually did 8 last week). The result is that the first week is hard, the second week is REALLY hard, and then it goes downhill. Eventually you get used to it. Now your lifts go DOWN. You are working while tired, the muscles aren't putting out as much force as before, but you are working them as hard as possible and so they are getting stronger.

When eventually you have a rest period you will find yourself much stronger than before. This is actually dangerous, (apparently, I'm going off other people's theory at this point, but it sounds reasonable) because the muscles recover faster than ligaments and tendons. So if you take a few days off and them lift as hard as you can then you can damage yourself. YOu have to have a full week off before you try for maximum weights again. Either than or some lighter sessions to get your muscles tired again.

So how am I going? Well the "dark times" in the first month don't seem to have turned up. These are meant to be depression, inability to get out of bed, hating the idea of lifting, hating the idea of moving, and of course constant pain. Well, so far I'm not depressed or hating it. Getting out of bed IS pretty hard, and I'm not exactly raring to get into the workout, but once there I'm fairly positive. I did find myself drooling a little (mentioned by one writer as a symptom) between sets as I was standing, leaning against a pile of art, with my eyes closed, waiting for the iPhone app to tell me it was time for the next set. And yes, I'm needing ibuprofen a couple of times a week, and apirin more often than that. But overall I've gotten off very lightly compared to the warnings.

I attribute my easy time to the fact that chins, while probably the largest upper body exercise you can do, are nowhere near as strenuous as Squats, Deadlifts or the Olympic lifts. Indeed deadlifts are considered by even Broz to be too damn hard to do this method with.

And am I getting stronger after nearly 4 weeks? No. Well maybe. My single rep max lifts haven't improved, but my "volume" sets of 3 are improving. It fluctuates but I'm doing maybe 10 kg more than I started with. In 4 weeks that's fairly good.

12-01-2012

Starting the New Year with Some Excitement

The Ute

When those little red warning lights come up on the dash while you are driving, particularly when accompanied by the engine making a terrible noise, that is a sign you should pull over and stop NOW. Not that you should ring your husband, and then argue with him when he tells you to pull over and stop NOW. And then keep arguing over the phone until suddenly the car stops all by itself, and won't start again.

The problem was that a sudden oil leak had developed. I'd noticed it was low on oil, filled it up, and then dear wife took the ute to Newcastle and back. On the way back, at about midnight, it ran out of oil. If you keep driving after it runs out of oil, eventually it runs out of bearings, pistons and un-cracked blocks too.

So I hopped in her car, drove 50 km up the freeway, so she could drive home, and then I waited around in the cold (in December! Global Warming!!) and dark for an hour or so until the tow truck driver arrived. (I had been contemplating dropping my auto club membership, but I'll be keeping it now thank you.)

The auto club was actually very good. They were polite, the guy turned up earlier than predicted. He took me to the local mechanic, which was 10 minutes walk from my house, but then he drove me home anyway. Then AS I WAS WALKING IN THE FRONT DOOR, I got a text from the dispatcher telling me the towie would be arriving at my car within an hour. So there was a bit of miscommunication within their organization, but it didn't affect me.

The Repair

As expected, the engine had fewer pistons than it should, almost certainly needed some new bearings, and now had a big crack running down the side of the block. Now I have, previously, run an engine that lost a piston, via the simple method of taking the conrod out, locking those particular valves closed, and running the car as a five cylinder with horrible vibration. But that car was NOT suitable for regular intercity transport of heavy loads, which is what the ute is for. So it was a new engine.

Now I had previously noted that for carrying fishtanks around the standard XH 4.0 is fine, but compared to the old 300zx (with 18 psi of boost, water/alcohol injection, turbo back 3 inch exhaust and some custom instrumentation) it was sadly lacking in the power.

So... first to come for the falcon was a set of redback extractors, with a high flow cat and 2.5 inch exhaust with redback muffler. (I didn't intend to get all redback, but that's how it worked out). With some timing advance and 98 in the tank, G-tech told me I had 169 rwhp, which is fairly great for that level of mods.

The next step was to go to the BBM, a variable intake manifold available on the latter model sedans that greatly increases the low and mid range torque. My mad skilz at ebay resulted in me accidentally getting 2 BBMs, and my mad timetable at work resulted in me not having time to put even one of them in for a year and a half.

But with a new engine needed, a new EF engine has gone in (with a BBM already installed) and changed over to the XH management (dizzy not coil packs, no BBM control). Right now I've got an Tickford Special Vehicles XR6 EL computer snail-mailing it's way to my house, and I've just got a Wade 977b high performance camshaft delivered this morning. This is the second most radical cam that Wade Cams offers for the Falcon SOHC six, and the most radical that does not need aftermarket computer. Though it is recommended.

So, I'll see how much I can install and get running before work cranks up again.

I've been forced to do some work on it already. The blokes at the local mechanic did a quick and not too expensive job of engine swapping, finding me a new engine for $600 in one day (benefits of driving a falcon. You don't get that with a bentley or Lamborghini.) They also did the entire changeover in one week, from finding a car abandoned on their front doorstep one Friday morning to my driving it away the next Friday evening. But they didn't quite finish the job. The air intake was not installed, they just popped on a pod filter. And the filter wasn't bolted in place, it was just held in place by the hose clamps. And one of the hose clamps was missing, so it was only held in place by luck to stop the entire intake tubing assembly from falling into the fan belt at 80 kmph.

So I had to mix and match the old and new parts to connect up to the airbox with an air filter in it. So now it's legal but I still need to replace the narrow (and now convoluted) standard air tube with something a bit beefier.

I ALSO need a solenoid so that I can actually turn the dual position manifold into its two positions.

Badmington is Heaps better than Tennis (or Squash)

With badmington, the speed of the game, and the difficulty, depends on the strength and skill of the players. Absolute beginners can play together, slowly and gently, and still have lots of fun.

With tennis and squash you need a certain level of ability before you can play, before that point you are just spending 95% of the time picking up the ball from where you have failed to return it. Hence it's boring and frustrating unless you actually have a bit of ability. This ability is best gained playing badmington.

Squash is marginally better than tennis in this regard, as the ball has less far to roll along the ground. So it takes less time to pick it up and start again.

I'm speaking as someone who spent some of my childhood being professionally coached in both squash and tennis, but who has zero ability in all ball sports generally.

There is also table tennis or pingpong. I prefer the strip version of the game myself.

03-01-2012

In which I write out all the half remembered and (sometimes) briefly noted things I thought of over the Christmas period.

Malthusian Osscilation: A theory developed while eating vast amounts of Christmas Food.

If we take the idea of Malthusian oscilation (populations grow, use up their food supply, die off in huge numbers, food and resources replenish, cycle repeats) then it is clear that humans have escaped this trap in most of the world. Or have they?

Let me change the parameter descriptions just a bit, and see if it doesn't match our current reality after all.

Populations grow, drop to a resouce level at which the reproductive rate is below replacement, the population falls, food and resources replenish, cycle repeats.

Now I'll have to define a term here in an unusual (but not that unusual) way: Resource Level is not the same thing as Living Standard as it is experienced by the people in question. A two parent family, where the husband is earning $30 000 a year, and the wife is home on a large suburban block in a country town may feel they have less resources than a couple where both earn $100 000 and live in an inner city apartment. BUT the former family usually feel they have the time and resouces to have children, while the latter family do not. The resources required to have children are calculated differently to the resources required to live without them. Space, time and close relatives are weighted much more highly.

Oooh! Now lets apply this to the current world. Japan, and most of Europe are generally considered to have high standards of living, but people there do not think they are able to have children (the living standard they would have to give up is greater than the value of having children). Whereas Australia, Canada, USA are barely above replacement level. A look at a map shows that these countries have much more ROOM per person, even if they may not have much more WEALTH as generally measured. As I say above: The resources required to have children are calculated differently to the resources required to live without them.

At this point, everyone wants a graph

The original Malthusian trap. Poplulation oscilates between fixed values.

The new Malthusian trap. Poplulation oscilates between variable values. The big points are that

  1. The resource level at which people will reproduce (Resource(reproduce))is increasing. This is due to rising expectations.
  2. The resource level at which people can maintain at a given population density (Resource(density))is ALSO increasing. This is due in improved technology.
  3. Both Resource(reproduce) and Resource(density)) are highly variable between different social groups.

So what does this mean?

Current trends are that population growth rates are falling world wide, and have already gone negative in many places with low levels of time and space, but high expectations. This means that the rate at which Resource(reproduce) is increasing has overtaken the rate at which Resource(density)/ density is increasing.

However we have no reason to think that this is a permanent state of affairs. Many things could reverse this:

  1. Resource(reproduce) could stabilize or at least slow down.
  2. Resource(density) could increase faster.
  3. Over a period of a generation or so, Density in many areas could drop to the point where the resources increase to above Resource(reproduce) again. Despite this being a moving goalpost. This requires an economic system that improves Resource(density) despite a shrinking population, which is currently unknown territory for industrialized countries, though Russia seems to be on the verge of pulling it off.

Or, we do in fact end up back with oscillationg populations, but with the values of peak and trough populations increasing over time. This is ACTUALLY what we had before industrialization, but technological growth was so slow that it took a thousand years or more to see the trend.

Note that Resource(density) varies between different groups, both within a given geographical area, and between areas. However the big story of the last 30 years has been that this difference is being eroded away.

HOWEVER, Resource(reproduce) also varies, and while this difference is ALSO being eroded away, the differences are persisting more strongly, especially within geographical areas. What this means is that, in theory, social subgroups that have a lower Resource(reproduce) would soon grow to 100% of society.

23-11-2011

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.

21-11-2011

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?

18-10-2011

Superman?

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.

12-10-2011

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..."



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