Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl

Monday, 31 January 2005

Apple iProduct

Apple iProduct. You’ll buy it. And you’ll like it. And no, I really can’t see why folks get so excited over an unusable jelly-slop, DRMed music or ugly white cases. But that’s me.

Link does contain profanity, but that’s part of its charm.

The Enola Gay

An interesting interview with the pilot of the Enola Gay. He has no regrets about his mission, naturally.

Beer Can Save Your Life

A Slovak man drank his way to safety. His car was trapped in an avalanche, and as he tried to dig his way out he discovered that the car would fill with snow more quickly than he could dig. But then he realised that he could urinate on the snow to melt it down, and that he had eight gallons of beer in his car (he was going on vacation…). So he dug and drank and melted and dug and drank and melted for four days, finally escaping.

Does God Cause Tidal Waves?

Theologian David B. Hart tackles the problem of natural disasters: how can a good God cause such things? I believe his answer is that He doesn’t: creation is in bondage to evil, and the natural order is perverted to foul ends. That’s my reading, anyway.

Man Leaves Message for Family in Own Blood

A man injured in the California train wreck scrawled a message for his family using his own blood, believing that he was soon to die. He wrote I ♥ my kids; I ♥ Leslie (his wife) in blood on a piece of wreckage. Fortunately for him, he survived. Unfortunately for him, the media desperately wish to get their claws on him. Leave the poor guy alone—he has better things to do than humiliate himself publicly in an interview.

Saturday, 29 January 2005

Elk Burgers

In just grilled up a pair of elk of burgers for lunch. Elk has an interesting taste to it: it’s at once stronger and lighter than beef, with its own slightly peppery flavour. The one problem is that it is so low in fat: one really should add maybe a teaspoon of suet or lard (poss. a tablespoon?) per pound of ground elk to get a good, juicy burger. But as a meat, it has a lot to say for itself.

I’ve been told that American elk is the same as European red deer—no idea if that’s true, but if it is then it explains why many of the mediæval receipts for venison call for larding.


I have just published Penrod, by Booth Tarkington. From its description:

A wonderful coming-of-age story about a boy eleven going on twelve who gets himself into more trouble than any one lad should. From his improvised circus to the Great Tar Fight, there are plenty of laughs and a few touching moments as well. Few authors have quite so well captured those halcyon days when a boy is just about to start becoming a man. It does contain some possibly offensive archaic language.

This was a favourite of mine when growing up; I hadn't realised that its copyright had expired, but I’m glad to be able to make it available once more.

Friday, 28 January 2005

Iraqi Sovereignty

Michael Rubin has some interesting thoughts on Iraqi sovereignty It seems that we are making some mistakes which should be rectified.

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Typing Alone

In Typing Alone Mark Oppenheimer argues that a less liberal, more focused eduction with fewer extra-curricular activities and more time to think might be an excellent idea.

Tuesday, 25 January 2005

Gender Differences

Judith Kleinfeld has a great article on gender differences. One very interesting point is that the distribution of intellectual abilities is very different for men and women: women have a very pronounced bell curve with short tails, most being average and few being exceptional in either direction; men have a much flatter curve with far longer tails. Thus while average cognitive ability is typically the same for men and women on most measures (there are some where there’s a difference), there are more really stupid and more really smart men. These differences show up even in the womb—far more boys than girls are miscarried due to defects. But, as she notes, women are more apt to look upward with anger than downward with relief.

As an example of the difference at the extremely high end of the spectrum, the proportion of 13 year olds scoring 700+ on the maths portion of the SAT is 13:1. No doubt the extremely low end would be similar.

All this goes to demonstrate that there are fundamental differences between men and women. Which should come as no surprise to anyone.

Monday, 24 January 2005

What Goes on in an Abortion Clinic

The San Diego News Notes (a Roman Catholic right-to-life paper) has an interview with a woman working in an abortion clinic. We castigate the Nazis for their slaughter of the Jews, and rightly so, but when will we do something about a practise which has slain tens of millions?

Sunday, 23 January 2005


Since I have recently started publishing hitherto out-of-print books, I have also found a use for all those proofreader’s marks which they taught in school and which I promptly forgot. Those of you still being educated (yeah, John & Stephen: that’s you) might find them useful.

For my own part, I am amazed by how many errors I have found. There’s something like one error per page. Interestingly, they cluster: some pages have none and others three or four.

Milling Soap

Tonight I made a batch of soap (6 oz. almond oil; 10 oz. olive oil; 2 oz. lye; 6 oz. water, not in that order) and milled an old batch I’d lying about the house. The old batch happened to be the first I ever made, composed of old corn oil from my fryer and lard (cleaned, of course), with some spices added to make it pleasant-smelling. Tonight I ground it all and remolded it, adding some olive oil to ‘superfat’ it (making it very good for the skin) as well as lemon & clove oils and pearberry scent. The bars look very good—I’m going to enjoy using them.

Friday, 21 January 2005

The Venereal Game

No, it has nothing to do with sex: the venereal game has to do with naming groups of animals: a romp of otters; a troop of monkeys; a shiver of sharks; a descent of woodpeckers. The US Geological Survey have a listing of venereal names; a googling will find more, of course. The root of the phrase, of course, is venery, which means both hunting and sex—the conflation is for obvious reasons, although the dictionaries claim otherwise.

What You'll Wish You'd Known

Paul Graham, brilliant as ever, has written What You’ll Wish You’d Known, an undelivered speech for high school students. In it he gives students excellent advice on how to succeed in life—and it’s not what one might think.

Michael Moore's Bodyguard Arrested on Gun Charge

Michael Moore’s bodyguard was arrested for illegally carrying a gun. So let me get this straight: it’s okay for Michael Moore to be protected by a man with a firearm, but not okay for Bob Uhl to be? Gosh, that makes a lot of sense. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, Mr. Moore: if you want the rest of us to be defenceless, lay down your arms first.

Tuesday, 18 January 2005

2.35% APR?

ING Direct offer a 2.35% APR on their savings accounts, with no fees and no minimums. And I just converted to USAA to get 1.20%…

Aiding and Abetting the Enemy

An officer in Iraq has written Aiding and Abetting the Enemy, about how the news media deliberately mis-reports the war. Thanks to my brother Tom for the link.

Monday, 17 January 2005

Table from the Dark Ages

A few months back my mother was down in sunny Texas and picked up a table which had belonged to my dad’s grandfather. It’s the sort who leaves & legs fold such that it becomes a kind of credenza against the wall, and came with four chairs. It’s funny to think that this table and these chairs now sit in my home, in front of a television which their creator could not conceive, a cordless phone their carpenter could not imagine and a computer their joiner could not have dreamt in the wildest of pizza-induced dreams (indeed, it’s quite probable that he went to his grave without ever having eaten a pizza). It may not be the kind of history one gets from growing up down the road from Bosworth Field, but it’s the kind of history I can get…

Is Taxation Worth It?

Reviewing my accounts from last year, something occurred to me: I’m not getting a good bargain in regards to the government. With the money that I spend in taxes I could hire 1–2 armed guards to accompany me everywhere or watch my property—were it not, of course, for the minimum wage laws. But in a free country, where I could pay what a man desired to work for, I would be able to very easily afford one, and could manage two, on very good terms, too (room, board and good wages).

One might object that my two-man entourage could never protect me from a horde of rampaging Canadians, Mexicans or Wyomingites. But it wouldn’t just be my two and me: it’d mine, and me, and those of my employer and his employer and so on up the chain. And if every middle-class family in Colorado had at least two armsmen, I can pretty much guarantee that Wyoming would never invade. Not if they knew what be good for them, anyway (yes, ‘be’ is the proper subjunctive form).

This raises the question: what the hell am I paying for? For a long time my thought has been that paying for the police and military are worthwhile—but the numbers don’t lie: it’s more profitable for me to pay for it myself. I want my money back, and I want my retainers, and I want to make the federal, state and local governments as small as humanly possible.

Stray Dog

A curious thing happened this evening. I’d just returned from running some errands and was walking to my condo when I heard a noise. Turning my head I discovered a dog trailing its lead—apparently the creature had pulled itself loose somehow. It seemed very shy and cautious of me, so I went up and poured some chili in a bowl (so far as I know, there’s nothing about beef, beans, corn, red pepper flakes & black pepper that might make a dog ill) and returned with it in an attempt to gain its trust. It was a shy little guy: he’d only approach the bowl and eat if I were a few paces away. He seemed to have a tag on his collar; I was hoping that I’d be able to get him to trust me enough to check it, but he never let me approach. Even my traditional technique of letting the beast smell my hand, then scratching behind the ears didn’t work. Perhaps my gloves smelled funky.

I didn’t wish to let him get away; it’s well after dark and the poor thing could get run over quite easily. Eventually his lead trailed next to a fence, and I was able to lash it thereto. I called animal control, but by the time they called back his owner had come looking for him. Poor woman was quite out of her mind worrying.

To tell the truth, I rather wish that she’d not appeared. It was a handsome animal (although I couldn’t tell its breed: low to the ground, black with a white neck, and somewhat shaggy; maybe a spaniel of some sort), and I’ve been wanting to get a dog for awhile now. It looked like the sort which would have loved to go hunting up in the mountains. I’d have been glad to own him.

Friday, 14 January 2005

The Mystery of Cloomber

I’ve just published The Mystery of Cloomber by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A family moves into the strange house of Cloomber and proceeds to shut themselves up tightly therein. What could be their secret, and what do they fear?

The Nightmare Which is Windows

Fed up with worms, viruses, spam and spyware, people are giving up their computers, or at least giving up the Internet. Well, that’s what they get using Windows. If you stick a petri dish out in an influenza ward, you’re gonna grow junk; if you stick a vat of Lysol out there you won’t.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t get worms; I don’t get viruses; I don’t get infested with spyware. I use Linux, and I’m happy.

Thursday, 13 January 2005

The Deficit is Shrinking

You won’t see this reported, but the federal deficit is shrinking; Kudlow attributes it to the booming economy.

Wednesday, 12 January 2005

Forces International

Smokers, take heart: Forces International is here to represent your interest against the lies of anti-smoking zealots. They also advocate against the food police and the latest silly superstition to hit the stage: being over-sensitive to smell.

Why Quit Smoking?

Why quit smoking? The average lifespan would increase by 15–20 months if all forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other causes of death (including traffic accidents) (including those completely unrelated to smoking) were completely eliminated from the population. For cancer alone, that figure is 15 days. Well, I for one am willing to trade 15 days for a lifetime of happiness.

Tuesday, 11 January 2005

Army Officers Use Web Site

The New Yorker has a great article about how Army officers are using the Internet. The end has the standard media depression over the war, but the meat of the article is really quite good.

Remember Rafael Peralta

Rafael Peralta gave his life heroically in Fallujah and has since been treated scandalously.

BBC Doesn't Mention the Navy

According to the Telegraph, the BBC has gone out of its way not to mention the US and Australian military relief of tsunami victims. Unsurprising, as knee-jerk anti-Americanism seems standard with them.

Monday, 10 January 2005

The Nocebo Effect

Every wonder why it seems that everyone and his brother has allergies, has conditions, has something wrong with him these days? It’s the nocebo effect, the opposite of the placebo effect. We believe that something will harm us, and so it does. This goes a long way towards explaining modern hypochondria.

Personal Chemistry and the Healthy Body

In Personal Chemistry & the Healthy Body, Gerald Weinberg stresses the importance of a healthy lifestyle to professional advancement. The folks who receive preferment are those who have a good appearance, are energetic & composed and project an aura of leadership and charisma. Something to work on!

Sunday, 09 January 2005

A Batch! A Palpable Batch!

Well, for the first time since before summer I’ve brewed a batch of beer. It’s been something of a comedy of errors unfortunately: I reversed the hopping schedule (bittering with aroma hops and flavouring with bittering hops) and somehow managed to to plug the cooling sink up right, and so all the nice ice cold water for chilling the wort went right down said sink, leaving me with no way to rapidly cool it. Still, I’ve had worse brewing nights, and I see no reason to think that my beer won’t turn out all right in the end.

Saturday, 08 January 2005

Twelfth Night

I went to Caerthe’s Twelfth Night today. I gotta say that when the SCA shines, it really shines: where else could one get crown roast of lamb with barley, savory toasted cheese with mushrooms, pickled Roman cabbages (Brussels sprouts), parsnips & carrots, bread pudding, saumon caudle (salmon soup), chickens in hocchee (chickens stuffed with grabes and garlic), minted peas, sambocade (a sweet cheese tart something like a softer cheesecake) with sour cherry sauce and wardens in syrup (pears in a sweet red wine sauce) for $14? And that was just dinner; lunch involved a stuffed boar’s head, brawn with mustard, stewed potatoes, buttered cauliflowers, mushrooms alexandre, a Hanseatic stollen (fruitcake), meringues, candied lemon peels and fruit—and was included in the same price.

Of course, with all this well-done and authentic food one did also have to put up with the sort of folks who have no idea of what real history was like; perhaps inspired by others they will improve in time.

Friday, 07 January 2005

Trees vs. Hashes

My friend (and kinda godson—I sponsored him for confirmation) Buzz Anderson writes on the topic of data structures as culture, inspired by a friend’s interview at Microsoft which featured trees and his own interviewing experience at Apple which heavily features hash tables. What, one might ask, is a tree and why would a programmer care about it—and for that matter, what’s a hash table?

When dealing with data in a computer, one often needs to search for a particular datum. This could be done by scanning every last bit of memory to find it, but that would be extremely slow. So instead we somehow associate a key with the data, and look for the key instead. But it’s still too slow to just search through a list of keys to find the one we’re looking for: on average one must examine half the keys to see if they match (what we call O(x), since performance is directly proportional to the number of keys); this can get quite expensive. So we computer scientists build data structures which enable faster searching and use of data.

A tree is arranged like an upside-down tree, with the root at the top and the leaves at the bottom. The entire thing is composed of nodes elements which contain a key, a datum and two child nodes (the leaf nodes have no children). Moreover, there is a constraint on the nodes: the no node in the left-hand subtree (the tree which has the left-hand child node as its root) has a key is greater than the root’s key, and every node in the right-hand subtree has a greater key than the root’s. To search the tree for a number (say, 42), one first visits the root node and checks its key. If it’s 42, then you’re done: return the datum. If its key is greater than 42, then check the left-hand subtree in the same way; otherwise check the right-hand subtree. Keep on doing this until you find the key or run out of nodes to examine. A binary tree provides what we refer to as O(log x) performance: a substantial improvement over linear searching.

A hash tree is best visualised as a black box (there are a lot of different ways to implement them): you give it a key, and it returns the data in constant time. That is, whether the table contains one key or for one million, the time to retrieve the data is the same. This means that a hash table’s performance is O(1)—it’s proportional only to 1. This is really cool: it means that we need never care about how large our data set grows, since performance will be as predictable as it ever was.

You might be asking why hash tables aren’t the only data structure ever used, then. The answer is that the constant time they take is relatively slow compared to trees for small data sets—and the logarithmic time that trees run in is relatively slow compared to linear search for very small data sets. Thus even in a modern program there are probably a few places that use a simple linear search, and in others places using trees, and in others using hash tables.

The beauty of a hash table, though, is that it is conceptually the cleanest and best of the structures. You know that performance on the developer’s workstation with a toy data set will be the exact same as in the field with $100,000,000 worth of financial transactions; you know that you're ready for the future. It’s telling that Apple cares about hash tables and Microsoft about trees. Tree are a speed hack when can bite one in production, but are great when developing; hash tables take up a bit more resources, but are much more durable.

The Innocence of Fr. Brown and What's Wrong with the World

Sleepy Owl Press has published two more books by G.K. Chesterton.

The Innocence of Father Brown
Twelve of G.K. Chesterton's superlative Fr. Brown mysteries. Fr. Brown is a Roman Catholic priest who solves the most varied type of mysteries in the traditional English manner of Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes. A wonderful read!
What’s Wrong with the World
A classic work on philosophy, imperialism, feminism, education and what is to be done about all the above.

Both are $9.99. Now that I’ve published three Chesterton works, I’m next turning my attention to Doyle—and after that, Kipling! Not so certain which authors will intrigue me enough to add after that, though.

Swede Loses Husband, Son and Mother in Tsunami

A Swedish woman lost her husband, her two-year-old and her mother in the Asian tsunami just a day after she and her husband had a second wedding. One knows neither the time nor the hour indeed.

How the Left Betrayed Iraq

Naseer Flayih Hasan has written How the Left Betrayed my Country—Iraq. A biting commentary on the dishonesty, cynicism and ignorance of the Left.

Alarms and Discursions

I have just published G.K. Chesterton’s Alarms \& Discursions in a new attractively typeset edition. The book is a collection of miscellaneous essays on politics, religion and philosophy first published in 1911. The cover price is $9.99—contact me for bulk orders.

Thursday, 06 January 2005

The Complete Military History of France

A record of unmitigated failure. Really pretty sad.

Wednesday, 05 January 2005

The Encyclopaedia Mythica

The Encyclopædia Mythica is a massive reference to all sort of mythologies and creatures. Looks like it only covers real mythologies (e.g. Greek and Inuit), not created ones (e.g. Lovecraft & Tolkien), though.

The Plasma Mug

Thinkgeek have a plasma mug: a glass mug which acts as a plasma ball. Extremely cool.

Tuesday, 04 January 2005

Father and Son Head to Iraq

Kendall and Christopher Phelps are both deploying to Iraq in the same unit. Good for them, and good luck to them!

Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico

Did you know that the United States had an emperor from 1859 to 1880? What a wonderful true story!

Back to Work

After a four-day weekend, and after two weeks of working half days, I must now work a full eight-hour day. I am not looking forward to it. Grumble…

Monday, 03 January 2005

General Grant a Base-born Coward

In this same document, I find an anecdote of General Grant on the subject of duelling:

I do not believe I ever would have the courage to fight a duel. If any man should wrong me to the extent of my being willing to kill him, I would not be willing to give him the choice of weapons with which it should be done, and of the time, place and distance separating us, when I executed him. If I should do another such a wrong as to justify him in killing me, I would make any reasonable atonement within my power, if convinced of the wrong done.

The rest of this article has been retracted.

Texan Navy

Apparently the officers of the Texan Navy made a habit of growing their hair down their backs in the fine old British tradition. Bully for them!

Top Eleven Ways to Please Your Guy Self

Found a link to a list of eleven ways to be a guy. Sage advice, really.

Sunday, 02 January 2005

Have Animals a Sixth Sense?

Apparently the recent mass survival of animals and the mass-death of men in the Asian tsunami has led to a renewed investigation of the supposed sixth sense of the beasts which warned them of the impending calamity. Interestingly, my pastor noted just this morning noted that if one lives one’s life in accordance with God’s will and is receptive to His word, then one is more likely to be warned of events before they happen (taking the example of St. Joseph, who was warned by an angel to leave Judea, told when he could return and warned to turn away from his path for safety’s sake). It seems to me that animals—which have no free will and thus can neither sin nor do good, but merely fulfil their appointed roles—may indeed, since they are less fallen than men (for they never sinned, but were merely twisted thereby), be able to know of impending mass danger.

Or perhaps it’s simply that the shore-creatures hear the cries of the sea-creatures caught up in the wave and flee, and the inland-creatures hear the cries of the fleeing shore-creatures, and all head for the hills. But it doesn’t seem out of the question to me for the less-fallen to be more in tune with God—which is also to say, more in tune with everything in God’s creation (which perhaps explains the many clairvoyant saints as well).

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