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02-12-2013

More Books

A Renegade History of the United States It sounded like a nice idea. Retell the history of the USA from the perspetive of criminals and lawbreakers, examining how they affected the development. In practice it seems to be an embarassingly lewd account that is written more in the style of a letter to Penthouse magazine than a history book.

And it comes off as a letter to Penthouse that was written by a 14 year old. Stuff like "the pounding sexual rythmns of negro music", by which I take it he means that there were drums. I mean who is he writing this for? Nobody since the early 1950s 1750s is going to believe that the mere addition of drums to a band will make the music any more "sexual" than a simple violin and piano. There is no inherent immorality in any instrument type (except didgeridoos, obviously), and I find it very difficult to believe that anyone ever really thought that there was. (Examining such a concept would probably be a far more interesting history book.)

There is some areas of interest, such as following the historical trends of things like unmarried motherhood, which shows that current debates on the subject are usually moronically parochial about such things. But the breathless recounting of lines such as "sensual negro women" keep distracting the reader away from history and back into thinking about the author's particular fetishes. Yes, you prefer your cheesecake to be chocolate, OK, stop going on about it.

I gave up reading the book at that point.

Oxford Very Short Introduction: American Indians By which of course the author means those of the USA. His occasional mention of Canada, Mexico and the early spanish settlement in the Carribean indicates that he is, in theory, aware that there might be other countries in the Americas, but they aren't important, and as soon as the book gets going these other places (if they really exist) can be safely ignored except when border incidents crop up.

Another element that can receive one nod of acknowlegement, and then be safely ignored, is the issue of bias in the book itself. And bias there is. When thousands of years of history, including several hundred years of conflict with other cultures, can be written without a single incident in which the indians might be at fault, you know you are dealing with a very one-sided view.

The language is also a dead give-away. If some Indians misunderstand the European culture, that is "confused by an alien culture". If three pages later some white people misunderstand the Indian culture, that is "cultural blindness". Yes, it's that blatent.

However, once you get past the adjectives, this is actually a fairly good book. There was a fairly good emphasis on the way that Indian culture was not a static thing. That many of the famous tribes (such as the Creeks) were not only more recently formed than the early European settlements, but that they were established as (African or other indian) slave owning and slave raiding groups.

(The way that many of the indian tribes actually owned significant numbers of african slaves was an interesting twist. One that I would really like to see in a movie, just for the way it would challenge the dominant paridigm.)

This is a book I was happy to read through to the end.

Worm Now THIS is a good book. Super heros, if you like that kind of thing. But very well written.

12-11-2013

You know you're a geek when...

The first real smile of the day is when you use a sweet-as phrase in writing an engineering requirements document.

AND the happiest you've been all week is when someone said that a new fluidic pipeline layout is probably needed, and so this means you get to design it. Which is just plain fun.

Or at least, more fun than telling other engineers and scientists what to do, which is what I mostly do these days. Which is less fun. But that's what getting promoted is supposed to result in. Which leads, I guess, to many engineers not wanting a promotion. :(

17-10-2013

America and China Holiday

I just came back from a month's holiday. 2.5 weeks in the USA, 1 week in China, 0.5 weeks traveling.

The trip to the USA was to visit my family, who had to spend 6 weeks there while my niece got a new ear built. I only spent 2 and a bit weeks, before flying on to China.

I spent most of the time in LA, though with a 3 day trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. And this was writen on a phone so it was full of typos that I haven't caught yet.

Things USA has better than Oz

Worse than oz

  • Buildings look like the zombie appoc already started, with razor wire, bars etc. signs of high crime.
  • No coffee.
  • No milk.
  • Beggars
  • Freedom of speech means a very low tone in terms of ever present ads for sex and sexually related items.
  • Mayonnaise
  • Even the nice houses have no yard space.
  • Homeless people sleeping out even in expensive suburbs. Take a wrong turn in Hollywood and next thing I am walking through an encampment made of rubbish by the side of a freeway.
  • Low prices aren't as good as they look. Marked at 9.99 the actual price is 12.99 or so after tax and tips. And it's impossible to work out us money which all looks the same. So you end up paying $15.00
  • Las Vegas is everything bad about LA but worse.
  • China v USA v oz

    USA has much more pervasive emilitary presence than oz. Just stuff like bumper stickers "My son is a US marine".

    (Now some idiot is going to Interpret this as me saying this is a bad thing. I don't think it is a bad thing and I do think you are an idiot. But it is a difference. )

    Most worrying thing in china is the fact that every time I turned on the tv there were at least one usually two or three shows about the Chinese fighting Japan in WWII There'd be a military drama about WWII (with remarkable good special effects) and (on a other channel) a soap opera set in 1941 and/or a comedy with the war as background or a documentary. Now I don't know enough to say that this indicates a top down "lets remind the population that the Japanese are the bad guys" or whether its a bottom up demand for such shows. Neither is good.

    Both china and USA ha e a lot more hybrids and e vehicles compared to oz. which has more LPG and more diesels I believe this is a tech issue with oz diesel fuel being formulated to allow use of euro style modern Diesel engines while china and USA do not.

    The tesla sedan does look nice.

    USA has access to a lot more drugs like steroids and ephedrine that our hated overlords in oz have decided that the peasants shall be denied.

    China has tv ads for things like excavator operator training or automotive assembly line training. The ad shows a class of literaly hundreds of students in excavators digging holes. Or welding. Or wiring something.

    The USA had an ad for mobility scooters. "Oh wow" I thought "The aging of society has really kicked in." Then china had exactly the same ad with most (but not all) scenes redone with Chinese actors. (Five scenes with Chinese people driving a scooter then a different kind of scene with a negro or a white guy ) A reminder that aging is not just first world. I could then watch oz tv to see if we also have the same ad but that would require watching oz tv.

    Polution in Beijing means it is one place where walking on a machine in a gym is actually not a stupid alternative to just walking outdoors. Unless you smoke a cigarette while in the gym. Which some Chinese do.

    But then I find that there was a FREAKING LION about 2 blocks away from where I was walking at night through Hollywood. On the same nights that I was walking about. It seems that blundering into a homeless hobo's camp was NOT what I should have been worried about.

    And yes, these lions do eat people. If I'd known one of those bad girls was about I'd have been much less self confident walking through the dark... which would have made me look like a victim and hence made it much more dangerous :(.

    On the trip I read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".

    Three points:

    1. It was much, much more critical and negative about the American revolutionaries (what the book was really about) than I would have expected from a 1960s American novel. It made the leaders of the revolution (Jefferson, Washinton etc.) out to be deceptive manipulators who tricked the population into a war that most of them didn't actually want.

    2. The economy just didn't make sense. They had people growing food on the moon in tunnels, with artificial lights, fusion reactors, and mined, (running out) water. Then they exported it to Earth at a great profit (which the "loonies" didn't get.) Earth meanwhile was running out of food... but there didn't seem to be any reason you couldn't dig tunnels on Earth, build fusion plants on Earth, and the water was MUCH more available.

    3. Then the author got all distracted with describing a sort of hippie, free-love, group sex, hyper-feminist culture on the moon. Which is fair enough. And then he had the temerity to claim that this was the only possible approach that could work in an environment where men outnumber the women. Which indicates he has NEVER been to a mining camp, football club, or even (in the 1960s when this was writen) a university. Let's face it, all these situations are FAR more macho and sexist than a more normal society.

    The really sad thing is that his hyper-feminist society was still, in many ways, more patriarchal than normal life in 2013. For example they had females enrolled in the military for the purpose of keeping the men "company".

    23-08-2013

    Almond Slice

    Dear wife and I were at a party and we were very impressed by a thin, crunchy, almond slice thing that someone had brought. So I googled it up and the ingredients and method was simple enough.

    So on Sunday I made one.

    OK, the author clearly has some sort of brain disorder where they mix grams and farenheight in a recipie, but after converting the units to 21st century, working out the independent variable (how many almonds you have) and realizing I don't have a gram-accurate set of scales at home so changing to volume, I got the following male-level recipie.

    So how did it go? Really, really well. Just like the one that the old lady had made and brought to the party.

    In fact, it was too good. Wednesday night I was woken up by Dear Wife who told me that she'd finished the last of the one I'd made on Sunday... and so I had to make another one. NOW!

    I didn't have any Almonds left, so I had to wait until Thursday night. I used the new, higher temperature this time and it was even better.

    06-08-2013

    Criminals

    Someone broke into my house.

    The back door was open, and it was clear that it had been opened with a big prying bar rather than a key.

    Nothing was taken. Nothing was disturbed. Nothing appears to have been touched.

    Weird.

    My hope is that they were bitten by one of the many red-backs or funnel-webs that I haven't got around to removing.

    18-07-2013

    No particular title

    A whole bunch of things

    Over The Top: Sylvester Stallone 1987

    A Stallone movie from when I was still at school, though I somehow missed it at the time. It was recommended largely because of the highly accurate depiction of professional arm-wrestling. Apparently it was actually filmed at the world arm-wrestling championships, and most of the competitors shown are the actual competitors, actually competing.

    I was disappointed to see that there was also some sort of emotional boys-relationship-with-his-dad story threaded in, which is a problem with lots of American films. And even worse, the boy was 12 years old. In the history of cinema there have been two good movies where a major character was under 16 years old, and they both starred Jodie Foster. Since she is over 16 now, there will probably never be any more such movies. Wait, there was also the 1990s Addams Family movies, where Wednesday was a great character, largely because she acted like a (creepy) 40-year-old even though she was 12.

    In modern times however, this is easily dealt with by fast-forwarding whenever the kid appeared on screen. This reduced a soppy 80 minute movie, with some action, to a fast paced 30 minute show that was packed with action.

    Not enough about actual arm-wrestling though. I was looking at arm wrestling because I was challenged to an AW contest by some chinese guy who figured that because my forearms are the size of his upper arms, that I'd be good at it.

    He trounced me.

    So I looked it up, and it turns out that there is all sorts of technique involved. Indeed, just the stuff shown in the movie would probably have been enough to enable me to win. Since then I've tried with some Australian guys, and beat them all, but none of them were at all big fellows, so I still have no idea how I'm doing.

    Mein Kampf: by Adolf Hitler

    Yes. Really. It's a very interesting book. And it reminds me most of Atlas Shrugged. The politics of the two books are almost completely opposite, but what is most interesting is how so many of the political arguments in them can be found in the newspapers and internet sites of today. Unlike Atlas Shrugged however, there are a lot of arguments in Mein Kampf that can NOT be found, largely because how how the author himself so vividly showed where those particular arguments lead.

    Or did he? So many of the arguments against the "Jews of International Finance" are still common, just with the words changed to "Banks and International Finance". The racial element is dropped (because that has been proved to be a losing argument) but the rest of the story is still the same.

    As the book goes on, the similarity to any serious argument one would encounter in 2013 is reduced, and you end up with someone sounding like they are satirizing Hitler. But no, that is what he actually wrote. Beyond satire is a rare condition.

    In reading this, I am reminded to update my:

    Signs of Epic Fail

    Strong to Foolproof indications that someone is not worth listening to.

    "The Naked Prey", staring Cornell Wilde. The story took place in the 1800s when a hunting safari upset the natives by not giving gifts for passing through their territory. All the hunters were captured and tortured to death. Only Cornell Wilde was given a chance. They stripped him naked and gave him a running head start. Then 5+ seasoned warriors with weapons took off after him. He not only had to elude them, he had to survive off the land and make it back to a European settlement.

    -> Meh. It was pretty good, but hardly merits the praise I heard for it. The beginning is special however, because they actually had elephants being shot and de-tusked, on film. You just can't film that sort of thing any more. It was really impressive how quickly an elephant rifle can drop those huge beasts.

    Another issue is that I couldn't work out when it was supposed to be set. The "bad white guy" was talking about going into the slave trade, which means no latter than the 1840s or so. But the bolt action rifles look at least 50 years newer than that.

    A final complaint: A white guy is stripped naked and sent out into the African sun during the middle of the day where he runs around naked for days on end. Hello sunburn! But this never seemed to happen. He was "resting" in the middle of an open field, ignoring the shady tree 5 meters behind him. Weird.

    28-06-2013

    A Princess of Mars: Edgar Rice Borroughs

    So I stumbled across this guy, and I found him very strange to read. He seems to start from the same priors that I have, and his thought processes seem logical, but he ends up in very strange places a lot of the time. I'm guessing that he has some unspoken priors that are NOT the same as mine, but it isn't clear what they are.

    One thing that I didn't realize was SO different from what I think, is his praise for this book:

    Now he is aware that most modern people don't like the book. But in my case at least he is stunningly, bafflingly, wrong about why this is so. He thinks that this is some sort of political correctness, some sort of modern people not liking heros who rescue women. Some reaction against the idea of tough, brave men battling daunting odds.

    Look at this picture. Is this guy excessively tough and heroic looking? The complete opposite. By modern standards he is a weedy little wimp.

    And I don't mean modern fictional book cover standards, where the typical sword wielding hero would weigh at least 3 times what this guy would, and have 3% body fat. The actor who played this character in the recent movie wasn't big as action heros go, but his arms were about as thick as this guy's thighs.

    I mean that this guy is scrawny by normal standards. Walk into any gym or look around a beach, you'll see heaps of guys better built and more tough looking than this.

    Stupidly, I followed up the movie by reading the book. I am stunned that such a hopeless book is still in production a century after writing. And I'm at a loss for words as to why you'd want to make a movie about it. But the movie did manage to be considerably BETTER than the source material.

    To start with, in the book, he isn't a normal man. He's some sort of magic immortal with eternal youth... that never appears to have any impact what so-ever on the rest of the story. The book opens with the hero mentioning that he is a magic immortal, about 90 years old but looking 30. And that he appeared fully grown without a childhood. And then this fact is NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN. Talk about a loose end.

    Let's get this straight, we have a fairly straight forward "civilized man finds himself in a barbarian land and somehow manages to become a more successful barbarian than all the natives who've been living this way for their entire lives". OK, we've all seen this story a hundred times before, from Robin Hood to the Avatar Movie. And just occasionally it does happen in real life, such as the story of Lawrence of Arabia, or Clive of India. And to be fair to Edgar Rice, he wrote this book before a great deal (but not all) of these stories were written, so the cliche wasn't quite as well worn in his time.

    But now we find that, on the side, the civilized man was actually some sort of immortal the whole time. Which is never mentioned in all the rest of the story? To quote Shakespeare: "Huh?"

    Then the rest of the story is... sort of lame and bombastic. With considerable ignorance of simple science like.. the laws of gravity. Going to Mars with its 38% of Earth gravity does give a human better jumping ability, about 3 times better. Not 10 times better like in the book. Or 100 times better like in the movie. Though he is an immortal, so maybe he always had super powers?? See how messed up this is?

    Below I mentioned

    that so much new stuff appears to be amazingly good. And I wondered if it was just me. Well here is something that is meant to be really good by old standards, and it is rubbish by modern standards.

    If this is any indication of what E.R.B is like as an author, I am glad I read all the Tarzan books when I was a schoolboy. At that age I didn't have the sophistication to spot all the terrible writing. Though now that I think about it, even then I remember thinking "This doesn't really work. Why would that happen?" about some aspects of the Tarzan stories. In particular one about an American who ends up in some sort of lost Crusader kingdom hidden in the desert and -surprise, surprise- turns out to be better at sword fighting than all the experienced knights. Seems to be a common failing in his books. (Ironically, the other aspect of the books that seemed unlikely, that there were societies in Africa that still think it is the middle ages, turned out to be completely correct.)

    Getting back to the Mars book. I've found that the one part that actually does work for me is the aspect of books that usually doesn't sit right with me: the romance.

    Usually, fictional romances seem to just appear out of nowhere. Happily married X walks past a not particularly attractive Y. X drops her purse and Y picks it up for her... next scene they are boinking madly. Huh? How did that happen?

    But in this case, a lonely single man who has just been through a terrible war as a soldier, and then spent the next couple of years in the bush looking for gold with one (male) companion, finds himself millions of km from home, surrounded by horrible looking aliens, and then a beautiful, naked, princess turns up that he has to rescue. It would be a fair stretch if he DIDN'T go for her. On her side... well all Alien chicks dig Earth men, this is well known. And the fact that he got an egg-laying alien pregnant is the sort of science stretching that I'm prepared to live with, unlike the stupid gravity errors.

    14-06-2013

    Strength-Nerdity

    So why was I looking at vitamins just

    below

    ?

    I was preparing for this week. I am now trying to finish a black double espresso with no sweetener (except cinnamon) that is today's fare on day 8 of the infamous Velocity Diet. If you haven't run across this monster, it's 28 days of nothing but protein, (with a bit of fiber and vitamin supplements to stop you getting sick), and stimulants to both keep you going and to stave off (some of) the hunger pains.

    Originally a Testosterone Nation idea, (or whatever they're called this month). Of course their version involved all the super high priced protein and stimulants and vitamins that they make all their money off. But I'm just using the generic stuff.

    Dear wife is overseas on business for the month, so this gives me a chance to try stupid things. Being a nerd this means wacko diets, a deadlift station blocking the downstairs corridor, and a new cam installed in the car.

    Maybe a N2O kit...

    Tonight is refeed night, so I'm planning a whole pork roast, with apples and onions, and maybe roast garlic too :-b.... <- Ascii smilie of drool if you didn't get it.

    12-06-2013

    Chewable Vitamins

    I noticed that the supermarket is selling "Chewable Vitamin Tablets" as well as "Chewable Aspirin".

    I'm reminded of "Self Tapping Screws", "Walkable Cities" and "Reclining Chairs"

    Which is to say, that I've never encountered any that WEREN'T. You just aren't trying hard enough.

    09-06-2013

    Everything is Great

    I don't know whether I am correct about this, or if someone is slipping drugs into my chocolate supply again, but it seems that barely a week goes by without me finding myself staggered at how totally awesome something is.

    Movies? It's getting so that if I see a movie that isn't fantastic, I'm pretty disappointed. So far this year I've watched

    Of those, only James Bond and Iron Sky were less than awesome. And even they were probably great by the standards of say the 1980s.

    TV? Probably the least exciting thing I watch on TV (my own show excepted naturally) is Top Gear. Which itself would be considered a top movie by the standards of my childhood. Something like The Slingshot Channel is the stuff of childhood dreams. And it's just there, whenever you want it.

    Books? I've mentioned many of the wonderful books that I try to squeeze in to my days. I've just finished two about religion. Jesus Interupted. And The Screwtape Letters.

    Jesus Interupted is a book by a non-religious bible scholar, who sets out to make the bible less fictional. Screwtape is by C.S.Lewis, who sets out to make it MORE fictional. I'm not sure they didn't both go in the opposite direction to their intent. But both were great, with many quotes I hope to remember for years.

    I've just started on Prince of Thorns. Which is like Game of Thrones but not as... civilized.

    Food? Probably every third time I go out to dinner, I encounter a dish that leaves me near wordless as to how much I enjoy it. The new Carb-free Mother energy drink was another such example. (Insomnia in a can!)

    Music? Epic Rap Battles of History. 'nuff said.

    Comics? I just read The Strange Talent of Luthor Strode and the follow up The Legend of Luthor Strode. Clearly orders of Magnitude better than any comic I had as a kid. Even leaving out the ones listed at the top of this page.

    Of course if I get too happy and want to calm down again, I can always turn on the news. No members of parliment were assassinated today, worse luck.

    29-05-2013

    I should probably stop doing this

    So I was picking up a fountain so I can empty all the stagnant water out of it. And the fountain was heavy (see, full of water), and slippery (water again) and the edges of the fountain were sharp.

    You can see where this is going, right?

    12-05-2013

    Razor Gang Agley

    I've been using a razor to slice through packing film, when I wrap up purchases for customers. Up until now I've not had any accidents.

    Up until now.

    So now I have ANOTHER shoe filling with blood.

    See. I was using one foot to hold the roll of film still while I pulled it taught with one hand and used the other to wildly slash the razor blade in the general direction of all the other hands and feet.

    Icecreamed Loudly

    Fortunately I had a tub of freshly made strawberry icecream upstairs. Which is well known for its healing properties.

    I'm not a fan of store bought strawberry icecream, but the home-made stuff, which has real cut up chunks of strawberries in it, is a completely different matter. Commercial strawberry icecream is really just a reminder of the real stuff.

    So yes I have an icecream maker. And so far I've found there are two sorts of icecream recipies: those that contain about 10 egg yolks, and those that just have milk, cream and flavours.

    My one attempt at cooking an egg-yolk icecream was not as successful as it could be. It wasn't smooth, there were chunks of what was clearly egg in it. But the yolk flavour, mixed with the finely diced real vanilla bean, tasted FANTASTIC. Once again, the commercial vanilla icecream is really just a reminder of the flavour of the real deal.

    I'm going to try again with the eggy icecream. For one thing, it will have a decent amount of protein in it.

    26-04-2013

    Perfect Quality Control

    A couple of years ago, my parents went to Ireland, and bought me... a pair of socks. Mind you, they were very nice socks.

    So it was with some disappointment that I took one off my foot yesterday, to find that the heel had worn out.

    It was with some surprise that I found the other sock had ALSO worn the heel out, on the very same day.

    It takes fine levels of quality control to have both socks so well matched.

    Of course, if they were Japanese, the toes, the sole, the instep, and the ankles would have disintergrated at the same time too.

    Those ignorant of manufacturing reality would argue that perfect quality control would mean the socks never wear out at all. But this is not true. A sock that never wore out would be too expensive to buy, and probably too heavy to wear. To be cheap and light, a sock must definitely have a use-by date. The secret of good design is to have every part of the sock have exactly the same use-by date, so that no part has wasted levels of cost or weight.

    I will concede that my Hole-proof explorers do seem to last a lot longer than these pair have. But the Hole-proof are not as comfortable.

    Ghost in the Wires: Kevin Mitnick

    A fairly interesting book by a fairly famous hacker, who got caught and jailed many times for breaking into various phone company and computer systems.

    But it's got one thing that just irks me. The author is totally oblivious to his own behaviour.

    He spends pages explaining how completely ridiculous the prison authorities are when they place restrictions on his access to phones. How their behaviour is completely paranoid and without any foundation. Then he explains how he got around the restrictions anyway, and managed to hack the system. And then he is baffled that they place even more restrictions on him.

    He explains just how brilliant he is. How stupid the FBI are. And how they keep catching him, and by bad luck they keep finding his car full of evidence they use to convict him.

    I'm just up to the section where he destroys his wife's life and career, dragging her from a promising job in computers down to being broke, arrested, constantly watched by police, and living on the sofa in his mother's apartment. And then, once again, he is completely baffled that she leaves him.

    An interesting aspect is the way he presents his life as a case study in broken home abandonment issues. His parents broke up, his mum had a string of hopeless and sometimes abusive boyfriends, he never sees his dad except... when he gets in trouble. Now after-school-special level psychology tells us that he will proceed to constantly get into trouble. Voila!

    More advanced, (say late night TV show level) psychology tells us that the string of father-figures who abandon him means he will develop into some sort of psychopath, who cannot see his own behaviour as comparable to anyone else, and who will constantly be trying to skate along, exploiting other people and the system... oh look.

    I'm not saying that my psych analysis goes any further than TV level in depth or accuracy, I'm just saying that this guy doesn't need anything more advanced than that. At least not as presented in the book.

    Caveat: I am listening to an audio book. The sense of unaware bafflement and self rightous indignation might be due to the reader, who is putting these emotions into his reading style. It is possible that Kevin himself was being subtly ironic and playing off these stereotypes as a joke.

    Maybe.

    09-04-2013

    A Common Error on My Part

    A mistake I keep finding myself making, though less so now that I've identified it:

    Someone says "Fact F exists."

    They back it up. "Fact F is explained by Fact X. It can be proven by correlation Y and results in well known phenomena Z"

    Then I think to myself "Wait a minute! Fact X is false. Correlation Y doesn't follow the basic rules of logic. And phenomena Z is both a disproven myth and doesn't logically follow from F at all unless you assume Aristolean laws of motion."

    And then I make my error "Therefore, fact F must be false."

    No, no, no, no, no. This does not follow.

    There are many, many reasons that someone can justify, explain and back up a TRUE fact with stupid explanations that don't make sense. And sadly, most of these reasons seem to be in operation all over the place.

    The issue is that fact F is the result of empirical observation. And it is (often, not always of course) true.

    BUT...

    The problem is that my self-satisfaction at spotting the flaws in the argument, causes me to dismiss real observations of fact F, and hence to operate at a functional disadvantage to someone who didn't think about the explanation and so got the right result for the wrong reason.

    It gets even trickier when the order is reversed. Instead of "Fact F, because of X, Y and Z." The story I hear is "X, Y and Z, therefore fact F".

    07-04-2013

    Post-Colonialism

    I finally encountered an "Oxford Very Short Introduction" book that I didn't like. Post-Colonialism started off badly, and then... well it didn't go anywhere as far as I could see. It just droned on and on about how people felt about post colonialism, and how post colonialists felt about post colonialism, and about how those feelings felt about being feelings. And about... well about then I stopped.

    I persevered for longer than I liked, thinking that it is good to sometimes be exposed to points of view that are alien to my own. Get outside the comfort zone. Subvert the dominant paradigm. Etc, etc.

    Except I WASN'T being "exposed to points of view that are alien to my own". Instead I was being exposed to someone who SAID he was offering points of view that are alien to my own, while at the same time, not actually telling me anything tangible at all.

    For example, the author starts off by telling me that there are two types of white people (racist!). Those who have been in a situation where they are the only white person surrounded by many non-whites, and those who haven't.

    Those who have been in a situation where they are the only white person (my wedding for example, or the last 10 parties I went to, or those times I wandered alone around the cities in China, or Korea, or Chile...) and those who haven't. Well clearly I'm in group one.

    He then launched into a spiel about how once someone finds themselves in the first kind of situation, then they will experience loneliness (no), a feeling of being ignored (no) being the object rather than a subject in the conversation (no more than normal), a feeling of not being able to speak out (no), being treated as less than human (no) and on and on with a whole lot of alleged things that I should be suffering from.

    Hmmm. He then pointed out that you would never see non-white faces when looking at the dominant political figures in the world. (Obama, Kim Jung-Un, Ahmadinejad are the dominant figures in the news this week. I guess Iranians are white, even though this author seems to list them as non-white. And Angela Merkle is white.) He points out that literature from before feminism is never from a female point of view (What authors can I name from the 19th century? Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, the Bronte Sisters and Jane Austen. That looks like 50% to me, and only if we count all the Brontes as being one.)

    Time and time again, the author tells me, not external facts that I might not be aware of, but facts about my own life and my own experience. And he gets just about everything completely wrong, but is convinced that he is correct and continues on.

    I concluded that the reason people treat the author so badly is not because of his race, but because he is an insufferable git. And I stopped reading.

    And went on to the "Oxford Very Short Introduction: Islam". Which proceeded to expose me to points of view that are alien to my own. Get outside the comfort zone. Subvert the dominant paradigm. Etc, etc.

    05-04-2013

    Confusification

    That moment when you realize that one sock, and hence one shoe, are soaked in blood.

    And these were my good shoes!

    18-03-2013

    Car Test 2013

    Some years ago, I participated in a search for a luxury 4WD. Well the lease on that vehicle is now up, and it was time to look again.

    This time, my fried Richard did an on-line search first and so ruled out most candidates. The stand out winner from last time (Lexus RX350) wasn't such a good choice any more for a few reasons.

    1. The price of fuel has gone up, and the Lexus isn't that good in this respect. Not by 2013 standards. Also, the distance that this car puts on per week has gone up, exacerbating this issue.
    2. The driver (Richard's wife) now works in the city and has to park in a small, cramped, parking garage. The Lexus is a bit too large to make this easy.
    3. Lexus has increased the price, AND made some of the previous standard kit into (pricey) add on options.
    4. Her last two cars were Lexus, and she wants a change. This is the most important factor.

    Strangely, the alternatives on offer haven't changed much over the last five years.

    So it was off to look at the Audi Q5 and Q3. We looked at a Q3.... too small. Not for us (we both like the TT) but for her... she wants something tall and somewhat dominating in traffic.

    The Q5 however... looks fairly promising. A shade smaller than the Lexus (even 50 mm makes a difference in parking) but overall fairly nice. Available with 4 engines, 2.0 petrol and diesel, and 3.0 petrol and diesel.

    So we asked the dealer, and he only had a 2.0 TDI for testing. So we took it for a spin...

    Conclusion: It's a nice car. Well made, nice interior, looks good. The standard equipment seems fine without having to pay another $20k in options. (You CAN pay that much, or more. German options are outrageous. But with the 2013 Audi you didn't need to because all the expected stuff is standard. Richard isn't the sort to pay an extra $2000 just to get more difficult to repair paint.

    BUT: The engine felt like a little 2.0 liter 4 cylinder trying to drag around a 2 tonne 4wd. Which is what it was. It's a diesel so the fuel consumption is tiny, but you can hear it straining all the time, and it is hardly effortless. Who wants to pay about 80 large for a car that feels inadequate every time you pull away from the lights?

    So what about the 3 liter sixes? The petrol model is... is what?!! 0-100 in 5.6 seconds?!! That's... well that's the same as a 5 liter V12 Lamborghini Contach. THE supercar from when I was a schoolboy. Now it seems you can get a medium prestigue 4WD that will match that. Hmmm....

    So what is the fuel consumption on this supercar? 8.5 L/100km. Compared to 11 L/100km for the Lexus. In a 1920 kg luxury 4wd.

    The last 5 years have seen a HUGE step forward in automotive technology. Nearly as much as the 1988-1993 period.

    Then there is the 3 liter diesel. 0-100 in 6.5 (about the same as a 1985 V8 Ferrari!) with a miserly 6.5 L/100km.

    OK, we have got to test drive these. What's that? You don't have any? Errr... OK, we'll go to lunch.

    After lunch I rang two new dealers. One had the 3.0 liter petrol, sure we could test it (WooHoo!) the other... never answered. The one that didn't answer was close by so we went there anyway. This lady DID have the 3 liter diesel, so we took it for a spin.

    Conclusion: Yes, this felt just like the other car, but with heaps of effortless power. Richard's wife was with us now, so I couldn't do a full acceleration run like I wanted too. Well and we were also in a fairly busy set of streets.

    Except somehow the car wasn't quite as nice? The dashboard and controls seemed to be missing some things. Is this the 2013 model or 2012?

    Back at the dealer, it turns out it was a 2012. The new car would have all the fancy toys that we saw in the 2 liter model. And have even MORE grunt under the right foot than this test car. And so the only question left was price and delivery time.

    Once again the bargaining display from Richard was fairly impressive, but the dealer wouldn't play ball this time. Actually, the saleswoman who arranged for our test drive was busy when we came back, so some other salesman stole her customers when she wasn't looking (Sneaky! Not a good sign.) And we had to negotiate with him.

    The bargaining was hard, but this model is just too popular, that dealership had already sold a handful just today (not the dealer's bullshit story, I saw people signing contracts and shaking hands after doing the same test drive as us.) So he wasn't prepared to move as much as we needed. Grrrrr...

    So we drove home, thinking about maybe trying the petrol version. (YES! Come on guys. Let's drive to the third dealer and have a spin in the supercar.) It's worth noting that the high performance petrol model uses more fuel than the diesel, but costs less to buy. If you crunch the numbers, the monthly bill works out almost the same. I'd go for the performance personally, if it comes at no extra cost. But being more sensible, Richard figured that the much greater resale value of the diesel will pay off in the long run.

    Then the first dealer rang up.

    Now it is worth noticing that while the second dealer was filled with people test driving cars and buying them, the first dealer was mostly deserted. We were just about the only people there.

    So when the first dealer rang up, I told him that we had settled on the 3.0 liter turbo diesel, but were still working on price. Ah! Well he can get one of those! Yes, he'll ring back and let us know what he can do.

    That evening, Richard rang to say that the dealer had called him at about 7 pm (on a Sunday) to sell him a brand new 3.0 TDI, with exactly the option package he wanted (ie. nothing over standard), in the colour he wanted, for $7000 less than the other dealer was demanding.

    Which turns out to be the exact $78k that the Lexus cost 5 years ago.

    THEN a week later, that deal fell through, and ANOTHER dealer found him one that had $4500 worth of extra options, for $500 less than the zero option car!

    Meanwhile

    Now this is funny.

    Well maybe 30% of the complaints seem completely valid, but at least half are laugh material.

    14-03-2013

    Dear Wife has gone to Europe: Continued

    Two paths diverged in the forest, and I took the one less travelled. It made no difference whatsoever.

    But that was at work. Meanwhile, at home...

    Not such a great record. On the other hand, I seem to have repaired the CD changer in dear wife's car. :-)

    AND broken the central locking in mine. :-(

    The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft

    I finally got around to reading this classic. And my impression is: "Meh".

    As far as Horror is concerned, I would place this at about a 3 on a scale where 1 is the Cookie Monster and 10 is Diary by Chuck Palahniuk. It really isn't scary at all, and takes itself far too seriously.

    What this book DOES manage is to be a perfect, textbook example of why an author should "show, not tell" in their writing. Instead of describing the monster, and hence letting the reader discover how horrible it is, Lovecraft instead just tells us that it was horrible.

    The Thing cannot be described - there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.

    Yeah well, that may be so. But saying something is too terrible to describe is basically just a cop-out for the author, and hardly serves to fill the reader with dread.

    It's not clear why this short story became the basis for a thousand T-shirts, political posters, cartoons and other follow-on derivatives.

    18-02-2013

    Dear Wife has gone to Europe

    So I'm on my own for 5 weeks. Now I sort of have to look after her business while she's away, but given I do this anyway, and given that she did choose the quietest time of the year to leave, I have the oportunity to try some things that normally would be disrupted by a need to... get a new lamp or some other girly thing.

    My aims for the period are to:

    So far, the ute is up on the wheel ramps and I've changed the oil and test fitted the transmission cooler. I've been paleo for 6 days, but slipped and had some bikkies this afternoon. :(

    I'll leave this list here and review it in five weeks.

    Cleanup

    A few changes to the links up top.

    I've removed

    Marginal Revolution, not because it's not good, but because it isn't good ENOUGH. Time is limited and this is basically a list of what I check out near daily. And MR is just a little too American and a little too focused on Economic theory to maintain that cut.

    Also removed is Fitness in Reality because my attempt to run two separate blogs died the expected death.

    I've added Girl Genius because... well what part of "Hot, Busty, Scantily Dressed, Female Mad Scientists in a Confusing Multiparty War to Control a Steampunk Europe while fighting off Zombies" don't you understand?

    I've also added The Slingshot Channel because what part of "Respectable German Businessman Mad Scientist in a Confusing Multiparty War to Control a Steampunk Europe while fighting off Zombies" don't you understand? And this one is REAL LIFE! You are given links to download the blueprints for the chainsaw throwing, zombie decapitating, fully automatic gatling slingshot crossbow that features in this week's mad adventure.

    You think I'm exaggerating don't you? You think that "Sure he might hand out the blueprints for a fully automatic Gatling gun that throws chainsaws, but there is no way it is also a slingshot crossbow, let alone designed for decapitating zombies." You would be wrong.

    31-01-2013

    Wicked, The Book

    Some time ago I went to see the musical stage production "Wicked". I quite enjoyed it, as it added a great deal of depth and maturity to the original "Wizard of Oz" story. Hence, when I saw the novel the play was based on, I grabbed it, confident that the novel would explore these aspects in even greater depth.

    I was wrong. The stage play included every single event of note that occurred in the book. The rest of the book (ie. about 80% of it) consisted of... well of people doing nothing much. And feeling useless because they weren't doing anything.

    There was a section when the young witch joined a pro-Animal rights underground guerilla group. BUT we audience never got to see what happened there. We were only told that she joined it and did some interesting stuff. Instead we get to read in great detail about her doing research in a library.

    I was very disappointed.

    Foolishly, I then started on the sequel. I kind of talked myself into it with the theory that because I'd seen the play, the first story had been ruined for me. And that if I read the next book, where I didn't know the story, it would be better.

    It was worse. At least with the first story, which was a behind the scenes look at The Wizard of Oz, there was some sort of structure imposed by the original tale that forced some discipline on the author. With the second novel he had free rein... to have the characters do nothing.

    It's about the Wicked Witch of the West's alleged son, who sets out to revenge a massacre commited by the Wizard's army. He seeks revenge by... joining the army and ... peeling potatoes for years... before committing his own massacres of innocent civilians by the wizard's orders... before defecting and eventually becoming gay.

    I gave up at that point. What a useless book.

    29-01-2013

    Movies

    So far this year I've watched The Hobbit, The Life of Pi, and the new James Bond.

    Both in 3D, because otherwise why bother going to the cinema in this world of home theatres?

    Life of Pi was absolutely spectacular, though I thought it could do with a bit less of two guys sitting down in a kitchen having a chat. Nonetheless, a visually incredible piece of art that shows the techical ability of Avatar can be combined with a decent story. (Hundreds of millions of dollars in cinematography, combined with a $50 after-school-special mining company versus natives script. That waste still gets me annoyed.)

    The Hobbit was even better. Though somehow the monsters weren't quite as scary as in Life of Pi. The story was more complex and involving though.

    James Bond was OK, but compared to the other two nothing special. It's pretty much a run-of-the-mill Bond film. Not really worth cinema price tickets for. There was a good Bond villian though: unsettlingly creepy.

    I still prefer the one with the car chase through a melting ice palace.

    10-01-2013

    Christmas, New Year, Bleh

    I have of course, like everyone else, now entered into the year 2013 A.D. The process of entering a new year is traditionally accompanied by much feasting and rejoicing. This year, not so much.

    Christmas

    We did go to a party. And dear wife did bring a present for her friend's children. A set of face paints, which dear wife then proceeded to play with herself the entire night.

    We also got to hear what you get when a professional, national level, musician gets some drinks into him and then tackles something CHALLENGING (as opposed to the stuff that he can do standing on his head, which is what musicians play when in public performances.) It was impressive.

    So I pointed him to Faerie's Aire and Death Waltz. He dismissed it. Then took a closer look. Then started to work through it.... I'd nerd-sniped him.

    New Year

    I went to Tasmania (not a disphemism). It was pleasant enough, though not that exciting.

    It might have been exciting, if it wasn't for fashion.

    You see it was like this: we were staying in Launceston, and dear wifey spotted a dress in a shop window that she couldn't understand. Now I ALWAYS see fashion that I don't understand, but this was something that didn't make sense because she DOES know fashion.

    So we went in. The fashion shop apparently had a problem: the population of Launceston probably includes about 5 people who

    1. Wear high fashion dresses of this sort. I'm talking a $900 dress. I don't pay that sort of money for anything that isn't a vehicle or produces dividends.
    2. Are this exact size.

    They had ordered six of each type of dress. The 5 fashionable residents in size [whatever] had bought one each, and now they had an extra.

    So... reduced from $900 to $60. No I didn't leave a trailing zero out of that final price. That's a 93% discount. Even I can see that that might be worth buying.

    Next question: "Do you have anything else like this in stock?"

    Half an hour later, the entire year's clothes budget has been spent, with nothing less than 90% off.

    So, providing I can get her to stick to the "this is the end of this year's clothing budget" story, all is good, right? Well there is the issue of her friend. The friend was not size [whatever]. She was size [whatever] - 2 units of girl-size (Whatever girl-size is measured in. Proper meals per week or something.) So, she wasn't able to get any of these great bargains.

    Right. So she needed to look in other fashion shops in Tasmania to try to find some fabulous bargain in her size. But she did not analyze this properly. She really should have restricted herself to Launceston (if it had any other fashion shops) or maybe some other tiny town where such mispricings could occur. But no, she decided to head for Hobart.

    Now our plan was to head for Hobart, see what was interesting there, and then go to Port Arthur, which I remember is very pretty. But instead we spent the day wandering around the CBD looking for cheap fashion. There wasn't any because Hobart is large enough, and has enough tourists, to even out the market and snap up any such bargains.

    Anyway we never got to Port Arthur, and that was probably a good thing because the whole penninsula was cut off by fire that afternoon and people had to be evacuated by boat.

    Which would have been fun. But would make it difficult to get the burnt out wreck of the rental car back to Launceston the next day in time for our flight home. So on net probably a good thing we missed it.

    We instead just drove back from Hobart. We saw a lot of smoke from bushfires, but nothing exciting.

    We did see a lot of Opium poppies growing in fields. But despite dear wife's urging we didn't stop to pick any.

    Lavender farm, the rows on the left have been harvested. The harvester machine is in the far distance.

    Fake old stonework. You can see the stones on the left are regular and even: made by machine. The irregular stones on the right were actually made by convicts with hand tools. They've tried to copy the marks of the hand tools, but the shear regularity of the pattern shows that it is a fake. This is an old church that has been repaired in more modern times, hence the mix of old and new blocks. (Spot the pun.)

    A pretty bird with a great tail. Also a peacock.

    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.



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