Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl

Friday, 31 December 2004

Goodbye 2004

Well, another year is about to expire. In the past 366 days we’ve seen more of Janet Jackson than anyone would want to; we’ve defeated the most left-wing candidate ever to stand for President; we saw a witch-hunt which ended with Martha Stewart jailed; we saw the winningest man ever to play Jeopardy—and we saw him lose. On a personal note, I gained a sister-in-law, which is excellent; I finally started my mediæval weapons collection; and I saw my financial position improve as the stock market slowly rebounds. It wasn’t a great year, but it wasn’t all that bad a year either. Here’s hoping that 2005 exceeds ’04 in the good and falls behind in the bad. Happy New Year!

Thursday, 30 December 2004

Formatting Information

I just discovered a handy LaTeX reference, Formatting Information: A Beginner’s Introduction to Typesetting with LaTeX. LaTeX, of course, is just about the best document preparation and typesetting system ever, capable of producing professional-quality output easily.

Orwell on Style

Another perspective on English style is that of George Orwell in Politics and the English Language. A great read whose advice boils down to:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Very good advice.

License 048-KLE

A little over a week ago I was nearly run off of the road by a woman in a Chevy 4x4 with the license plate 048-KLE, apparently annoyed that I should have the temerity to use the road (as is the right of every cyclist, and in some cases the duty too). Should I be smashed by a hit-and-run, one might wish to check that vehicle for scrapes…

The King's English

Fowler’s 1908 classic The King’s English is now online at Bartleby. It’s the definitive guide to proper style, written at a time whose pronouncements on the matter may be safely trusted. Now I just need to read it and take its lessons to heart.

Screen Presentation Tools

Michael Wiedmann has a great reference for screen presentation (e.g. PowerPoint) tools which focuses on those which run on open platforms (and maybe Windows/Mac OS X as well).

Wednesday, 29 December 2004

Noodling Legalised in Missouri

I see that Missouri has legalised noodling—fishing for catfish with one’s bare hands and feet. Be sure to follow the link: there are pictures of some monster cats!

Corsets and Crinolines

I recently found Corsets & Crinolines, a collection of photos of antique & vintage clothing. Unfortunately, it’s all women’s clothing, and thus useless for my own research, but pretty cool nonetheless.

Tuesday, 28 December 2004

Christmas Cancelled for Bad Boys

A man sold the Christmas gifts he’d gotten for his sons on eBay—because they misbehaved. Good for him!

A Group Is Its Own Enemy

Back in ’03 Clay Shirky gave an interesting speech on group dynamics. It discusses how groups can devolve without structure and order, and how those are vitally necessary to the long-term welfare of the group as a whole (which is unexpected to many and unwelcome to those with a lefty viewpoint). It also details how technology can enable new ways of working within a group, which is pretty cool. Well worth the read.

Saturday, 25 December 2004

Merry Christmas from heaven?!?!

I received a catalogue from the local stationer’s; one of the items is a Merry Christmas from Heaven ornament which reads:

I love you all dearly,
Now don’t shed a tear,
I’m spending my Christmas
With Jesus this year.

What kind of sick jerk would send such a thing? I can’t think of something worse to receive such a thing when sad & miserable. What is this world coming to?

Wednesday, 22 December 2004

Rebel Rouser

Listening to Rebel Rouser this evening, it occurred to me what a fine tune it is. Like November Rain or In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, it has he quality that it could be played for an hour or two and not seem amiss.

Prix Fixe Holiday Meals

I remember the wonderful autumn of the year I was graduated from Austin College. I had more money than I knew what to do with, having gone from $400/mo. to a rather more livable sum; I dined out frequently; my life was a whirlwind of activity and fun.

One night early that November I dined at the Chez Walter, a now-defunct Swiss place. I noticed that they were to have a prix fixe menu specially for Thanksgiving. This looked like a fantastic deal: enjoy some top-quality food at something of a bargain price and celebrate the holiday in style. But of course my parents wouldn’t hear of it: I got more grief and caterwauling than I’d ever received before (payment, perhaps, for the grief and caterwauling I dealt when having my teeth pulled…). Oh well, of course there’s always another chance.

But of course, there was no other chance. Every year, Thanksgiving and then Christmas would roll around, and every year the finest establishments in town would offer various prix fixe and table d’hôte options (each one enticing and attractive) and each year all I wanted was to go to church, eat a nice quiet meal in a nice quiet atmosphere and go home and have a nice quiet day in which napping would figure heavily—and each year I was prevented due to my family’s demand that I dine with them. Oh well, this wasn’t that big deal: I do love them, and they are in town, and it does seem a bit wrong not to celebrate holidays with family in town, and my mother and father are absolutely wonderful cooks, and after all someday I’d have the chance to realise my dream.

Well, this year I thought that I’d have that chance. They are all going to be headed to Grand Junction and will be staying the duration. This means that at long last I have no obligations and can finally have a perfect Christmas. Except that they tried to get me to go with them (which is fundamentally absurd: five people in a college student’s flat is the sort of thing that even a French surrealist would abhor, among other reasons), and gave me so much grief in front of other people that some very good friends of mine took pity on me (mistakenly believing that I’d be sad and alone on Christmas, when it fact it is my very dearest desire to have a quiet day on my own) and invited me to their place, and so of course I was honour-bound to accept their invitation.

Now this is all fine and dandy: my friends are outstanding and good people, and I always have a great time with them, and anticipate having a superlative time on Saturday, and will be glad to have gone. But I still won’t have been able to go to church, eat a nice dinner and then take some nice long naps. Four Christmases have come and gone; five Thanksgivings have come and gone, and I still haven’t realised my dream! Five years—half a decade; 1/15th of my life—have passed, and I still haven’t been able to have a Thanksgiving or Christmas ordered as I would have it.

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

The 28-Hour Day

I visited a website promoting a 28-hour day. The premise is that instead of 7x24-hour days in a week one instead has 6x28-hour days. The length of the week doesn’t change, and one still works a full work week (10x4 instead of 8x5). It sounds like a pretty cool idea. Perhaps once I start working from home I can start doing it.

Monday, 20 December 2004

Black Box Recorder

Check out Black Box Recorder, a band out of England with an amazing, hard-to-describe sound: a kind of retro-pop-sophistication which wouldn’t sound at all out of place in a cocktail lounge, except for its often bitter subject matter. I can’t say that I agree with their politics, but I can say that any man who can remain unmoved by Sarah Nixey’s vocals is no man at all. I highly recommend The Facts of Life.


I recently got myself a membership at emusic, a legal MP3 download service. They have a large number of indie/college bands (like Black box Recorder, Dressy Bessy, 16 Horsepower &c., but they also have mainstream artists like Otis Redding, Green Day, Bush, Violent Femmes, Willie Nelson and so on. The deal is that when you sign up you get 50 free downloads; after that it’s $10/mo. for 40 songs/mo., $15/mo. for 65 songs/mo. and $20/mo. for 90 songs/mo. You can always redownload a song you’ve gotten before without affecting your monthly cost. It’s also possible to buy additional one-time downloads for a price. The deal isn’t quite as good as used to be (a few years back, I believe it was one price for unlimited downloads), but it’s pretty good, and a lot cheaper than buying a CD which will just sit on the bookshelf, and at 22–25¢/track, cheaper than the other online music stores.

If you decide that you’d like to use the free trial (imagine: 50 legal, high-bit-rate MP3s), let me know so I can invite you: I get 10 free tracks with each successful referral.

Friday, 17 December 2004

The Devonshire House Ball

In 1897 the highest ranks of England gathered for a costume party. The images are quite interesting and in some cases rather amusing. Oddly enough, some of those present would live into the 1960s.

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

Neuros Digital Audio Computer

I want a Neuros. Completely open; has a mike; transmits FM; plays Ogg Vorbis. A bit pricey, though: $280 for the full bundle of player, flash backpack, earphones, belt clips and a charger.

The Mathematics of Sec

Slashdot recently reviewed Mathematics and Sec; sounds like an interesting book. Among its findings, if one has a run of n possible mates who after rejection will never be seen again, then one’s optimal strategy is to sample the first x = n/e (where e is the base of natural logarithms, 2.7183), then take the first one thereafter who is better than the previous x. This applies for anything, of course—even job applicants.

A commenter linked to an economic model developed at the University of Texas concerning ecstasy and the costs and benefits of faking it. Very curious.

Another commenter linked to Why I Will Never Have a Girlfriend, which mathematically demonstrates that there are 18,726 gals whom he might like and who might like him, and that meeting one new girl a week it would take 3,493 weeks to meet even one of the 18,726—67 years. In other words, he will never have a girlfriend.

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Treacherous Computing

Beware so-called trusted computing. Can you trust your computer?

Monday, 13 December 2004

Ted Turner on Media Consolidation

Ted Turner wrote on media consolidation this year; while I often disagree with him one must admit that he has achieved some remarkable successes, and this is an area in which he has no little amount of expertise.

Sunday, 12 December 2004

Parker's Heraldry

In 1894 James Parker published his Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry. In certain respects it is incomplete, but it remains still a valuable resource for the student of that noble science.

Yankee Secession

No-one who has followed recent American politics can be ignorant of the recent calls for blue-state (i.e. Democrat) secession. The New York Times has an article concerning Yankee secession. The best quote comes from a Southerner, in regards to the rather remotely possible War of Southern Aggression: We could go up there and get back some of the stolen silverware they looted from our ancestors 140 years ago.

Although I believe that secession is a fundamental right of a state, it would be nice to give the God-bedamnéd Yankees a taste of their own medicine.

Three hundred thousand Yankees,
Lie stiff in Southern dust,
We got three hundred thousand,
Before they conquered us,
They died of Southern fever,
And Southern steel and shot,
And I wish it was three million,
Instead of what we got.

It’d be quite satisfying to conquer them for a change.

Marine Sacrifices Finger for Ring

Given the choice between having his wedding ring or his finger cut off, a US Marine chose to lose the finger in order to honour his wife. Unfortunately, the ring was lost nonetheless in the chaos of it all. I hate to say this, but the guy was unwise. Any physical thing is recoverable or replaceable: had the ring been cut off, he could have saved the fragments and had them remade into a new ring; even had the pieces been lost, he could have simply gotten a new ring. But now he’s lost his finger and his ring together—he can still replace the wedding band, but his finger will never return.

Still, one must respect a man who pays homage to his wife and his marriage in such a manner. A man who will give his finger for his wedding ring is surely a man who would give his life for his wife. he may have been unwise, but perhaps sometimes it’s best to be unwise.

Saturday, 11 December 2004

College Application Essay

Now this is the sort of essay any admissions officer would be glad to read.

Bush One of Us

A small, unremarked portion of CNN’s coverage of President Bush’s medical report notes that he smokes an occasional cigar. I’m heartened to read it. Can one trust a man who despises tobacco? I don’t believe so.

Wednesday, 08 December 2004

Best Games of 2004

The Morning News offers a list of Good Gift Games for 2004; Funagain Games offer the Games Magazine 2005 Awards. Regarding the latter, it seems strange to number the awards for a year which hasn’t yet arrived.

Tuesday, 07 December 2004

Planned Parenthood

Saw in Mike Adams’s most recent column this not-so-fun fact: Planned Parenthood has murdered far more innocent people than the KKK and the Nazi Party combined. Sad but true.

Vikings and Horned Helmets?

The Straight Dope takes on the pressing question: did the Vikings wear hornéd helmets? The answer is unsurprising to a cynic like me.

Friday, 03 December 2004

Fox Hunting Banned

Britain has banned fox hunting, sadly enough. The things are pests, for Pete’s sake!

Thursday, 02 December 2004

The Secret of Immortality

Combining this cartoon and a passage I read in Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier, I’ve realised that the secret of immortality is to do something so notable that generations to come study one. I never realised it at the time, but there is a certain undeniable absurdity to an 18 year old studying a man dead almost half a millennium ago. And yet there’s something fundamentally awesome (in the original sense of the word) in that as well. It’s reassuring to think that we still try to get our children to see the world with a bit of perspective.

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