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25/09/2003

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Taboo or Rort?

Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941). The Golden Bough. 1922.

In the island of Uap, one of the Caroline group, every fisherman plying his craft lies under a most strict taboo during the whole of the fishing season, which lasts for six or eight weeks. Whenever he is on shore he must spend all his time in the men’s clubhouse, and under no pretext whatever may he visit his own house or so much as look upon the faces of his wife and womenkind.

From what I know of men who are married, and into fishing, this is not so much a sacrifice as a perfect arrangement. Substitute in football, racing, whatever for the social circle of your choice.

Were he but to steal a glance at them, they think that flying fish must inevitably bore out his eyes at night. OK that last part isn't so good.

More Word Things

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm.

Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

22/09/2003

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Country Music Massacre

First Johnny Cash, and then Slim Dusty. Conspiracy, or something more sinister?

Movie Review: The Italian Job

First of all, this movie could have been a fair bit better. In many ways they reversed the standard sequel approach of doing everything bigger, better and more extreme than the original. In this case the car chase scene was less extreme and less silly than the original. Which is wrong.

Secondly, the music wasn't as good.

Thirdly, the ending was boring, hollywood, ride off into the sunset stuff, not the cliffhanger of the original. That scene was partly replicated earlier in the movie, and well, but the ending should have been similar in feel. Something like the train being stopped by customs and them coming down, checking every carriage, approaching the one with the gold in it. Something like that. Or they could have been even closer, with a bridge threatening to break under the weight or something.

But in other respects it was very good. When I say it wasn't as good as the original, I am comparing it to one of the greatest car chase movies of all time. This was standard, early 2000s action movie, and probably better than most.

EXCEPT, the writers can't do any math. Not even junior highschool stuff. Let's start with the gold. There is 35 million dollars worth of gold to start with. At US$350/ounce that is 100 000 ounces, 6250 pounds or 3.125 tons. (2.84 metric tonnes). Now 3 guys, working in scuba gear, are NOT going to unload 2.84 tonnes in 2 minutes by hand. Especially if one is an old man who has come out of retirement.

And no, working underwater doesn't help much, that only makes it about 1/13th lighter than before.

Later in the movie they repeat this feat with US$27M worth (2.2 tonnes). Again, it takes a couple of minutes. For one solid looking guy, two slim looking men, a skinny little geek, and a girl. This is a case where 5 great big muscle bound guys might do it on time, if they were left gasping with breath afterwards.

They even mention that each of the three cars has to carry 260 pounds. This is clearly 1/6 the necessary weight. This is very simple maths, that they just didn't get right.

Which brings us to a second point. Modifying 3 minis to both carry an extra 260 pounds AND to be much, much faster and better handling that before, is going to cost a LOT more than $10 000. Especially if you get a Ferrari workshop to do it. I think you'd be very lucky to be $10 000 EACH.

In conclusion, a good movie, but it won't ever be a classic like the original.

19/09/2003

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Songs in the Head

You know how you gets songs in your head? For the last week I've had the Gloria from the catholic mass running through there. Now I have "I want to do it to Madonna".

There is no logic behind these things.

10/09/2003

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Arguments in History

Hell in a Handbasket brings up the argument about how many people were living in the Americas when Europeans first got there in 1492. Despite some people's claims to the contrary, he doesn't believe the numbers of 100 million, and figures that 18 million would be an upper limit. This is based on the idea that there is no sign of all the cities and town necessary to support any larger populations.

A commentator points out that if 100 million people were killed by the plagues from Europe (an explanation of where all these people went), not only would they leave lots of cities and towns behind, they would also leave huge piles of bodies.

To which I want to add some thoughts.

There's something else that large, mysteriously disappearing cities would generate besides evidence and bodies.

They would generate germs. The close, congested living areas of Eurasia, combined with domestic animals, are what generated all the deadly plaques that hit the native peoples so hard.

So where are the native American plagues that would have swept through 16th century Eurasia? Well there is one suspect, Syphilis, which first appears in history around the time the first Spanish sailors were getting back from America. But hardly the list of multiple killers one should expect from a society of 100 million.

Actually Syphilis was pretty bad. It has mutated through the years to become far less deadly, and modern drugs kind of stop it all together, but in the 1500s it was like a combination of AIDS and Ebola. A deadly, sexually transmitted disease that caused people to dissolve in a bloody mess and go insane. Nasty stuff.

In fact, there are claims that it was the spread of Syphilis which lead to the anti-witch hysteria of the times. All those women burnt at the stake were because they (being prostitutes or just sexually promiscuous) were spreading disease and killing people left right and centre.

Naturally the role of the men in spreading the disease was played down.

Some people put the death toll of the witch trials in the millions. This is an example of what would have happened a lot if the Americas really did have a dense population. Only, most plagues not being sexually transmitted, it wouldn't have been as easy to avoid infection most of the time.

09/09/2003

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Illusions in History

Given the existance of so many quite freaky optical illusions such as shown here, I have to ask if these were ever used in ancient times. I mean if you wanted to freak out a bunch of medieval peasants, you'd have patterns like this on the walls of your temples, right?

Alternatively, you'd put them on your shields when you went into battle. That should provide

  1. Freak out potential, always good in a battle.
  2. A moment of distraction, also a good thing when you are trying to kill someone.

08/09/2003

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Mass Murder

I was watching a history program last night, and it mentioned that a total of about 700 000 people were killed in the Roman Colluseum for public entertainment.

700 000. For fun.

This makes the Colluseum one of the biggest cold blooded killing centres ever. It ranks right up there with Auchwitz and other German concentration camps.

I wonder if the Germans will be as proud of their achievement in 2000 years time, as the Romans are of theirs?

Hate in Politics

At work we have a hippie. He is a genuine, Vietnam generation, greyhaired lefty, and not afraid to be public about it. I don't have a problem with that. But...

He says things like "I hear that f-cking Howard is having his bum buddy Bush over for a group r-mming session. I hate those c-nts, I hope someone kills them. Lets go and protest and show them what a group of -ss lickers they are." (Vowels removed to satisfy decency. He doesn't actually pronounce a lack of vowels.)

This is supposed to be a reasonable adult talking? It sounds like a 14 year old juvenile, and even then most 14 year olds wouldn't use language like that in a situation like the workplace. For a public statement I don't think you'll find that sort of thing outside of chemically dependent homeless lunatics.

EXCEPT, that I have heard comments like that before. An they were all green-left types. Do I want people like that controlling government?

(I'll ignore the blatent homophobia implicit in that statement by a supposedly gay-friendly lefty.)

05/09/2003

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Bodgey Engineering 3

Assembling a sofa-bed last night, I found a classic example of last minute bodgey engineering. The long (2 metres) beams that run from one side of the chair to the other just aren't strong enough to take years of 2 or 3 heavy people sitting on them. And it's a SOFA, that's what people do with them. So they added this little extra leg that attaches to the centre of the front beam and supports the weight in the middle.

The idea of going back and making the beams stronger in the first place was clearly too difficult.

Slang

Just when did "Pimp" become a GOOD thing to be? It seems the slang adjective of choice more and more nowdays.

Though if you think about it, no work, steady income, several sexually skilled women who do anything you say...

OK, the Hollywood version of what it means to be a pimp does kind of sound attractive to the highschool boy type mind. I think reality is probably a fair bit different.

On the other hand, you can just buy shares in a brothel on the stock market these days.

04/09/2003

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Movie Business

Michael Jennings has no comments at the moment so I'm forced to reply here. (I know, I know, I have no comments either. I do have a standing offer to publish any email I receive, providing it isn't legally provocative.)

Anyway, Michael has a brilliant article about the movie industry, and how Hollywood tends to learn a "lesson" about what to make, and applies this lesson 18 months to 2 years later (that being the lead time for a big hollywood movie).

(This was actually a Samizdata article so I was able to post a comment, but it was lost in the crowd, so I'm STILL going to post my comment here.)

And that is, that if the lesson Hollywood is applying now (poorly, stupidly, and to the loss of large numbers of dollars) is that a well done, big budget Sequel can actually make MORE money than the original, then... what lesson will they apply next year? Find a mad, bearded New Zealander and give him all the money he wants? That's what produced the Lord of the Rings trilogy, definitely the big money earner over the last year.

I get a mental picture of an eager line consisting of 26 mad, bearded New Zealanders, 3 Australians in fake beards practising "fush and chups, fush und chups" and one sheep that got caught up in the rush and will probably win the Disney contract.

03/09/2003

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Road Tests

A friend and work is selling his 1986 BMW 325E, and so I managed to get a test drive while helping him evaluate a good asking price.

My conclusion is that it seemed a lot better than what I had expected, based on magazine reports of the time. I can see why too. Car magazine writers LOVE revs. They love engines that scream up to a 8 or 9 grand redline. They like BMWs because BMW engines tend to be rev happy screamers. The Eta engine, as featured in the 325E and 525E, has a 4500 rpm redline, about half what a motoring writer likes. So they canned it.

Now you may wonder why BMW, famous for it's high revving screamers, should suddenly turn around and bring out a tractor engine. As with many stupid ideas these days, it can be traced to environmentalists.

In the early-mid 1980s, the price of oil went up, because of political events in the Middle East. All the environmentalists however suddenly started going on about the world running out of oil, how we will all be riding pushbikes to work, the unemployed can get jobs shovelling horse manure off our streets, and all the other facets of the Green wet dream. And BMW, for some reason, believed them.

SO... BMW decided to design a really, REALLY efficient engine. They figured the way to increase efficiency was to minimize friction, so they had only 2 valves/cylinder, minimal bearings, single overhead camshaft, and ran the engine at low rpm. To counter the expected loss in power, they bumped up the size, to get a 2.7 litre six cylinder engine. And it worked. The ETA engine was a fair bit more frugal than its predecessors.

So the 325E was all low down torque and no high rpm power. But in the real world (outside of motoring magazines) this means that it actually feels rather powerful, because 99% of the time you are below 4500 rpm anyway. Until the sudden throttle response, combined with the inbuilt good handling and solid build of the 3 series BMW, encourage you to get enthusiastic. Then you find yourself bouncing off the rev limiter all the time while the owner tells you to take it easy. (Sorry).

Anyway, all torque and no revs is not what sells in the market place for BMW (though it does rather well for Australian Commodores and Falcons), so after a few years they brought back multivalve heads and smaller, revier engines. (These days BMW and the more advanced other vehicles use variable manifolds, variable valve timing, and clever computers so the engines ACT like the Eta engine at low rpm, but can still turn into a high rpm screamer when you feel like it. And if they REALLY want to save fuel, they use a turbo diesel.)

It should be noticed that some people have sought to take advantage of the 2.7 litre engine size. They take the heads from the 323i (with a 2.3 litre, rev happy engine) and bolt them on to the 2.7 litre block. This gives a 2.7 litre rev happy engine with power levels that are starting to be decent by today's (2003) standards. But only starting. If not for the fact that the 325E was very light by comparison with modern cars of the same size it would still be a slug.

Enough about the engine. The rest of the car was in pretty good shape. All black, with a clearly mid eighties interior that was nonetheless obviously a couple of steps above the Mazda 626 or Holden Commodore of the same time. It still had things like wind up windows and the automatic sun-roof was jammed, but I can see that you are getting more that the cheaper alternatives. And the body did have a solid feel about it that you get from big cars, but is rare in things of this size.

For the money ($6000) I reckon you'd be much better getting a newer (1988-1990) Japanese thing, but a lot of people will be looking at the badge.

29/08/2003

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Less Busy

And time to catch up on the blogging.

First, I've added another link, to Lucy who demanded to know why I hadn't linked to her. The fact that her last blog update was in 2002 had something to do with it, but she has started writing again so here you go.

Movies

Secondly, I've been to see American Pie: The Wedding. I'm very disappointed in myself for liking it. I liked all the AP movies. Either they are the most clever and mature of the "American Teenage Sex Films" or I am becoming more stupidly tasteless as I get older.

Mind you, the original (AFAIK) "National Lampoon's Animal House" was the cause of me realizing that I had seriously changed when I got to University. I first saw it a few months before leaving school. I regarded it as silly fantasy. I saw it again after being at a University college for a year, I regarded it as straightforward and realistic. Then I remembered what I thought the first time...

Psych

Is it just me, or do other people make the strangest mistakes when typing fast. Like spelling OK as OCCAY? Or typing OCEAN when you meant to type SEE? These aren't fingers hitting the wrong keys, they are occuring deep in the brain. Somewhere. Probably the brain.

Cartoons

Inspired partly by U.S.S. Clueless, and partly because I've been wanting to do this for a while, I am going to confess my secret shame. I am a fan of cartoons. And I get them from the Web because that's where 99% of them are.

Once again, by lowering the cost of self publication to a poofteenth of stuff all (to use a North Queensland colloquialism), the web has allowed a huge explosion of creativity to emerge from everyone who ever wanted to be a cartoonist. Hence there is a huge amount of cartoons on the web, including by far the most intellectual, risky, exciting, and (if your tastes run that way) pornographic, selection.

I don't read them all, I don't read more than a handful. But now that Bill Waterson (Calvin and Hobbes) is retired, this only leaves Scott Adams (Dilbert) as the only remaining GOOD cartoonist in mainstream traditional publication. By which I mean someone you will go and tell your friends all about. So web toons it has to be.

(This is not strictly true, there are quite a bunch of clever guys doing variants of Batman and so on, but lets face it, this tends not to be that funny, and more importantly, not free.)

So what do I read? They are, in aproximate order of quality:

Sluggy Freelance OK, I don't know what the title means. It has been remarked in the cartoons that no-one knows what the Sluggy bit means (both major characters have somewhat "freelance" careers). I guess it's destined to remain one of those eternal cartoon mysteries, like why Charlie Brown never ran up to the football and kicked Lucy in the head.

Sluggy is the story of a group of friends, who live in a "Buffy" style universe, where magic and weird science occur more readily than our own. Things pretty much follow logically from there.

I NEVER miss reading Sluggy, but this is not a chore as every strip is available for free on line. Start from the beginning, otherwise it will not make sense. Long time readers tend to be nervous around bunnies.


College Roomies from Hell Number 2 in my must read list. Also a bunch of people living in a world where the extreme is more likely to occur. However they don't take as much advantage of it as the Sluggy guys do. On the other hand, there is an eye. You'll have to read it all to understand that one. One difference is that in the Sluggy world (or for that matter Buffy) most of the background people don't notice that all sorts of wild things are possible. In CRFH they often do.


Schlock Mercenary A largely magic free comic, any wild occurrences are explained by it being set in the future. Most importantly it occasionally contains mathematics contributed by a group including myself. Comics need more math.


FreeFall A largely magic free comic, any wild occurrences are explained by it being set in the future, rather than magic or stuff. A much slower comic, only about one or two updates a week. Has a sexy wolf in it.


Platinum GritAustralian based story about a nerdy guy living a boring life, who meets a VERY unusual girl. All of a sudden he is in one of THOSE worlds, where anything can and does happen. But all is not as it appears. Originally published in actual dead tree form, now available on the web. Updated about once a year, but it's a huge, book sized update.


GhastlyThis is not a pornographic comic, but it will explain every aspect of pornography so that you get all the rude jokes in all the other comics. (Alternatively, you could just go for the porn yourself, but assuming that (like myself) you do not, then this lets you in on the slang and concepts.) Definitely NOT work safe, even compared to normal reading comics at work. Ghastly is a comic about the tentacle monsters, who appear as sexual predators in Japanese Animae strips. In their private lives they are much less horrible. Mostly.


Soap on a RopeAnother comic set in one of THOSE worlds, where anything can and does happen. These are all nerds and social rejects, who take less advantage of the possibilities than the other groups, but are slowly learning. Not really very good, if I had to stop reading one comic, this is the one I would drop.

Bad 'Toons

As above, but ones I was tempted into reading and learned not to.

Bruno This cartoon consists of bored depressed people sitting around being bored and depressed, and going on and on about how much smarter they are than all those stupid people who are happy and have lives and careers and families and who enjoy life, which shows how much stupider they are than the bored and depressed people.

Surprisingly this series is constantly being referred to as being fantastic by commentators and even other cartoonists. Either the commentators are very bored and depressed with no lives, or they are sucked in by the artistry that goes into each panel, which is extremely detailed, and consists of a lovely piece of drawing, pity there is nothing worth saying.

Bruno the Bandit Much better than its namesake above, this even features dragons and violence. I guess the plots just got a bit repetitive for me. The author is now doing a part role in THE DIMENSION OF PAIN in Sluggy Freelance, which works better for me. Actually this Bruno is not really a bad comic at all, but I have stopped reading it, and I wanted to put it somewhere. And I couldn't be bothered with three catagories.

Actually there are heaps more "bad" comics that I started reading and gave up on, but mostly I don't even remember their names. And some keep changing their names. Like Wiiggii, or maybe called Walkie, that started out being called Roomies, being a close copy of CRFH, but degenerated into some Men in Black type thing.

Temptation

Did anyone see "Temptation" on Channel 10 last (Sunday) night? Usually, when a movie is advertised as a "World Premiere" you know it will suck. After all, if it was any good then it would have a big box office release, in Europe or the USA. Not go straight to TV out in the colonies. But this was impressive especially if you like food.

It is mostly about food. Flavours, techniques, seduction using, philosophy of, bigotry about... There is also a plot about egos and love and socially acceptable law breaking, but mostly it's food. And good, expensive, exotic, flavoursome stuff too.

There is a good scene where an Indian migrant is serving food to a hippy who is going on about how food is corrupting people and spirituality is all you need. One of those breatharian idiots who think that proper breathing and a good attitude is all you need for sustenance. He just goes off at her, about how people are starving to death in his country, in lots of countries. If it was possible to get by with just spirituality how does she think she worked it out, and all those holy men in India kept starving. And she was eating in an expensive restaurant at the time, the hypocritical bullshit artist.

But mostly it is the "hand made Italian sausage with Chestnuts and Gnocchi with hints of half a dozen different herbs and vegetables that is served with aged red wine" type food. DO NOT watch this movie if you are hungry. You'll have gnawed your arm off by the end of it if you do.

Unexpected History

If you want to look at a perculiar American sport, look at 1/4 mile racing. Now associated mostly with cars and bikes, this was actually developed in the 1600s when the quarter horse was developed.

It seems Americans have always wanted short races with no corners.

22/08/2003

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Busy

Very busy lately. Up at 2 AM last night working, started for work at 7.30 this morning. Not much blogging. A great view of Mars though, which as we all know is at the closest point for the last 50 000 years.

More Bodgey Engineering

As mentioned, I like to keep a track of bodgey engineering. This next example is short and sweet: The stairwell in the block where I live. They have beautiful full length windows running from the ground to the top of the 3rd (top) floor. As you walk up the stairs the window just keeps going up and up. They are made from huge sheets of glass, mounted in white frames.

EXCEPT that after it was made, someone realized that if anyone trips on the stairs, they will fall down the stairs, hit the window, smash through it, and then fall the rest of the way to the ground.

So, someone added a bunch of brown crash guards at the bottom of each flight of stairs, bolted to the white and glass wall. Ugly, rough, last minute stuff.

Poor, but not Bodgy, Design

Which brings us to the rest of the building. It was clearly designed by someone with no furniture. Some architect with nothing but a portable radio, a beanbag and a bong no doubt. To carry furniture in and out of the flats involves negotiating tight, narrow stairs (with originally nice feature windows) narrow, tight landings, and then, the door to the flat opens straight into a cupboard.

If the door had been set in the adjacent wall, it would have opened into the loungeroom with heaps of space to carry furniture in and out. But as it is, it requires a complex jiggle to move even standard size whitegoods or chairs. In many cases the doors have to be removed from their hinges to give the extra few centimetres necessary to get in or out. Large furniture is basically impossible unless it can be disassembled.

Now the tightness and narrowness of the landings on the stairs is a cost issue. It costs more to make them bigger, and everything has a perfect right to be designed to a cost. But the front door is just stupid.

07/08/2003

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Car Mods

In Eastwood today I saw a VW Beetle (old one) Ute. With the rear mounted engine being flat it isn't too hard to mount a tray over the top. So you see a few bug utes about. In theory you could also do a 911 Porsche, but somehow I don't expect it to be a common conversion.

On further reflection you could also use the Flat 12 powered Ferrari Testarosa. Now THAT would be impressive at the next B&S ball.

Referrer Log

Having gotten the Idea from John Quiggin I've added a referrer log to the bottom of this page so I can see if anyone ever links to me.

05/08/2003

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Anti-Materialism

As I sometimes do, I am divesting myself of all my worldy goods.

...In return for money of course. A nebulous intellectual concept that mostly appears as shifting patterns of electrical charges in the memory banks of computers, and you can't get much less materialistic than that.

Last time I did this I used the well known Trading Post approach. This time I used Ebay. What an improvement!

There are people who will bid on anything. eg. Dishwasher, bought 1999 for $140. It has broken down, been repaired by me, kept in dank garages for 3 years... I offered it starting at $25. It got to $112.50!??

Bookcase: I bought it in 1999 for $10. Now in 2003 I got $35.

And ebay requires no effort on my part. I like it.



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