Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl

Friday, 30 September 2005


I’ve recently been using Froogle; it’s a Google service which enables one to search through a huge number of online stores and find the best price on items. Very, very cool—and it’s saved me quite a bit of cash.


After the beer festival, Jethro & I were picked up by my kid brother, who then picked up his girlfriend, and we headed out to a special private midnight premiere of Serenity, the feature film based on the excellent, short-lived 2002 TV series Firefly. My verdict? Well worth seeing.

Firefly was a truly excellent show; I’ve written about it, and written again, but for those new to the series, here’s a brief description: it’s the far future, and mankind has finally colonised the stars. The interior planets are built up and civilised; the frontier planets are rough-and-tumble, mostly rural places where horses are still used for transport. The show had a kind of sci-fi/Western flavour (the creator, Joss Whedon, had previously done the horror/high school mixture known as Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and it got that down dead right. It was great, but Fox aired the shows out of order, pre-empted them for other programming and generally did its best to kill the show, finally succeeding before the season was done.

But the show did manage to pick up a few fans, and it managed to get a DVD release, which release did so unbelievably well that Universal decided that it was worth giving Whedon a shot at the big time: a full-length theatrical film. Thus was Serenity born.

The movie is in many ways excellent, but the dialogue is perhaps its best feature. Whedon’s forte has always been witty, pop-culture-literate dialogue, and Serenity doesn’t disappoint. The look of the film—a mixture of cowboy Western and high-tech—is very successful. I want to live on those worlds!

I’m not certain how successful the film will be among those not already fans; it seems to do a good job of introducing the backstory, but it’s hard to imagine many becoming invested in the characters over the few short minutes (1:59) of the movie.

It’s not perfect, of course. My major criticism is that it feels far too TV-like; in fact immediately after seeing it I said that it was the best TV movie I’ve ever seen. But it was good, and it should be seen, and Firefly needs to get back onto TV so we can see how it plays out.

The Great American Beer Festival

Last night I went to my sixth consecutive Great American Beer Festival, for the fourth time with my buddy Russell/Jethro (Russel’s his real name; Jethro is his persona’s name in the SCA); I’ve gone once on my own, and once with my buddy Phil. The festival was a complete blast—lots of excellent beer & lots of beautiful girls. They get prettier every year!

This year the food court was greatly reduced in size, which was a real shame; hopefully next year there’ll be more choice than a standard concession stand and over-priced Old Chicago’s pizza ($7 for a four-slice pan pizza).

As always, the beers impressed. We were able to try some wonderful ones which are completely unavailable here in town. It always saddens me that I can’t walk down the street and get the superb New Glarus beers in Colorado.

Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Buy a Cask of Scotch

Bruichladdich allows members of the public to buy casks of single-malt scotch; they’ll even store it for ten years for free. It's about £800 ($1,415), and yields over 300 bottles—that’s less than $5/bottle. The distillery will bottle it up for you with whatever label you wish. The perfect gift for the man who has everything!

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Fornication Good, Smoking Bad?

Betsy Hart points out that the mainstream media condone fornication, adultery, divorce and under-age partying—but won’t show a photo of a celebrity smoking. Smoking is the One Great Taboo of our era: it’s okay to do drugs, but not smoke; it’s okay to abandon one’s children, but not smoke; it’s okay to lead an empty, shallow, hedonistic and ultimately sad life—but if one durst enjoy the aroma of burning tobacco leaves, then one is considered a moral degenerate, a profligate, a bad role model and a poor example for others.

Monday, 26 September 2005

One Month, Less than One Tank!

Well, I’ve now officially gone for more than one month on a single tank of gas. The day I last filled my tank, I drove over 100 miles, and I’ve still more than a quarter-tank left to go; there’s a very real possibility than I could someday make two months without a fill. In fact, if I get a rain suit and start cycling to church, I might go for months without using my car. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Sunday, 25 September 2005

Ruined Endings

I just discovered a wonderful web site: Ruined Endings. It has a plot synopsis and the ending to all sorts of films. Saves one the bother of watching suspense flicks. Rather ad-laden site, though.

Friday, 23 September 2005

The United Kingdom, a Police State

David Mery writes in the Guardian about his arrest for the crime of looking down at the stairs as he walked and wearing a raincoat. This is worse than anything I’ve heard of here in the States. From everything I can tell, Britain has become quite an authoritarian nightmare.

Thursday, 22 September 2005


It’s fall once again; the leaves will soon turn their multitudinous colours and the air will have a bit of a chill to it. At last the cruel hot reign of summer is ended; too soon the frigid rule of winter will set in. But for now it is autumn, the grandest of the seasons, the time for romance and love; the time for life and joy; the time to drink in each and every moment. Ring the changes: the Season of Seasons is here!

Computers and Typesetting

I just received my copy of the Computers & Typesetting Millennium Edition Boxed Set. It’s comprised of five volumes: The TeXbook, describing the operation of the TeX typesetting system; TeX: The Program, the complete, annotated source to TeX (with errata & corrections); The METAFONTbook, describing the operation of the METAFONT font description system; METAFONT: The Program, the complete, annotated source to METAFONT; and Computer Modern Typefaces, which holds the entire source to the Computer Modern family of fonts, including Roman, Bold, Italic, Sans-Serif and Monospaced fonts. I am a happy geek today!

Wednesday, 21 September 2005


last.fm provides music-tracking and Internet radio. You install a plug-in for your music player, and last.fm can figure out folks who listen to music you like, and check out their tunes. You install their free player, and you can listen to a custom radio station which they believe you’ll like. One’s friends can even listen to a radio station customised to one’s own preferences. It’s pretty sweet.

I’m eadmund there.

Is It Wrong to Stand by One's Wife?

Jack Dunphy castigates a New Orleans police officer for staying with his wife rather than coming in to work. I could not possibly disagree more. A man’s first duty is to his wife & children, not to his job or the State. If the flood waters are rising, his job is to protect his family. If there are looters, his job is to protect his family and his property. Only if his family and home are secure is he at liberty to aid others. That’s a simple fact of decency.

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

NASA Returns to Rockets

Well, after thirty years chasing the deadly shuttle pipe-dream, NASA has gone back to a proven launch technology: rockets. Rockets are cheap; rockets are safe; and rockets are the future, not the flying deathcrate we&rquo;ve spent untold billions of dollars pursuing. It takes a big man to admit he’s wrong, and it’s even more difficult for a bureaucracy to do so, but under this administration they have. Now we’re finally headed back to the moon, with the plan to establish a permanent lunar base, and some day to proceed on to Mars. I have often stated my opposition to excessive space exploration, but if we’re to do it, at least let us do it properly—and it appears we will be doing so, and soon.

Monday, 19 September 2005

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Arrr, today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day and I did nearly forget it, shiver me timbers and whatnot. Never again, I do swear, by my little dog’s grave and my peg leg!

Nine Hundred Miles

My bike passed the 900 mile mark today on the way home from work. I hit 700 on the 14th of July, 68 days ago. Thus I find that I’m averaging 2.9 miles a day. Shoot, I really need to ride more often.

Clinton Wants to Raise Taxes

Former President—and current disgrace—Bill Clinton wants to raise taxes to pay for Hurricane Katrina. I’m still not entirely clear on why folks in the other 49 states bear the responsibility for paying the tab for a bunch of folks who built their city in a bathtub between two large bodies of water and didn’t bother to get flood insurance; now Clinton wants us to pay even more in taxes for the privilege? If we must help New Orleans (which is not an unreasonable position to take), then surely we should finance that help by cutting imbecilic programs instead of raising our already horrendous taxes by even a fraction of a percent.

Sunday, 18 September 2005

Why Are Sceptics So Cold?

Recently reading a few websites by sceptics like James Randi (no link given, as I don’t wish to promote him), I’m struck by how nasty the confirmed sceptical atheist is. He thinks that love is just an evolutionary adaption: fraternal love helps us survive as a group; erotic love helps us propagate the species. He thinks that altruism is the same thing: something to help our species survive against others.

I don’t want to live in a world in which love is nothing more than a chemical process, in which friendship is just a thymic byproduct, and anger is merely a storm in the soup of my brain. To tell the truth, that seems an almost psychopathic way to go through life—and my experience with true atheists shows that to be the case. Agnostics are rather better.

Now, a certain degree of scepticism is healthy. Our Lord gave us the reasoning faculty for a reason; part of that reason is to discern between truth and falsehood, between good and evil. But the starting point of discernment is not a blank slate—it can’t be, as demonstrated so aptly by Gödel all those years ago. The most embittered sceptic is just as credulous as the most unthinking follower of a charlatan, believe it or not, for everything—even mathematics—must be taken on faith. If faith (i.e. taking unproven assertions as true) is necessary, then it is needful to determine what the starting set of assertions will be.

A good starting set would be the Nicene Creed & Peano’s Axioms. With the one matters of the spirit can be determined; with the other, matters physical.

Saturday, 17 September 2005

The Bumper Metality

Stephanie Mencimer reviews Keith Bradsher’s High and Mighty: SUVs. Makes some excellent points: of most note would be the fact that SUVs are more dangerous than proper autos. Also interesting is the market research demonstration that SUV owners are insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others.

Although by that reckoning perhaps I should own one…

Thursday, 15 September 2005

American Insecurity

Warren Bell has a hilarious piece lampooning American’s absurd safety-consciousness. It’s hard to believe that we’re the same nation which conquered a continent, subjugated the savages, nixed the Nazis and mastered the moon. Instead we have become a mass of worriers.

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Flash Flag

The Flash Flag is a truly brilliant idea: a reflective flag mounted horizontally on a spring-jointed arm attached to one’s bike. It sticks out and waves, warning drives to stay well to the side. I’m going to get a whole set and hopefully never have to worry too much about driving maniacs again.

Monday, 12 September 2005

The Anti-Telemarketing Counter-Script

Telemarketers have scripts which enable them to take control of the conversation and keep you off balance. Why not do the same? Enter the Anti-Telemarketing Counter-Script. Absolutely brilliant, and hilarious too.

Artificial Ignorance

Back in 1997 Marcus Ranum came up with the concept of Artificial Ignorance. Rather than rely on an intelligent system to report interesting data, he used a stupid system to ignore boring data. By definition, anything left over has to be interesting. A nice way of approaching a difficult problem—in this case, log file analysis.

Sunday, 11 September 2005


From Switzerland comes the Zero Emission Machine, or ZEM. It’s a four-seater pedal-powered vehicle (a two-seater is also available). The whole family can hop on and take it for a spin, which is pretty cool. The body can even be used as a billboard, reducing the total cost of ownership for the $9,000 vehicle.

Vanilla Bicycles

A recent rec.bicycles.misc post led me to Vanilla Bicycles. I’m left speechless; these are some of the most beautiful bikes I have ever seen. One of those tourers will be mine someday.

Friday, 09 September 2005

Empires of the Word

John Derbyshire reviews Empires of the Word, a fascinating-sounding book about languages and how they increase in popularity and die out. I must get a copy.

Tuesday, 06 September 2005

The Greatest Thing Ever

I found this site today: a PVC flamethrower. This is truly the most wonderful device ever invented, no?

Sunday, 04 September 2005

The Leitra

I just discovered the Leitra, a fully-enclosed recumbent tricycle. It’s a very cool design, and with an electric motor added might make a very decent car replacement.

Friday, 02 September 2005

'Price Gouging' Saves Lives

Shortly after Hurricane Charley, David Brown illustrated how so-called price gouging saves lives. It does this by encouraging vendors to meet needs, and by fairly rationing goods in a manner that state rationing cannot. The innumerate fools in charge in the South are killing people with their ludicrous anti-gouging measures.

Thursday, 01 September 2005

On Price Gouging

I never thought that I would write these words, but George W. Bush is an idiot; he recently spoke out against price gouging. Well, the sad fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as price gouging. Thomas Sowell aptly demonstrated that it’s proper for prices to rise after a disaster. For example, after a storm a chainsaw is more valuable than it had been before—shouldn’t items sell for their value? And in fact they do—if the price is more than an item’s worth, people won’t pay it. It’s impossible to sell something for more than it’s worth. I note that the news has recently reported gas lines—well, if gas prices were allowed to rise quickly enough, there would be no lines: when it’s sufficiently expensive people will only buy it when they need it.

Someone, get our president (and our legislators, and the majority of our public commentators) some lessons in simple economics.

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