Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl


Monday, 31 July 2006

iAudio an Alternative to the iPod?

I just read an article about iAudio, a portable little audio player which—unlike the iPod—might be worth owning. It uses a real AA battery, not some expensive proprietary failure-prone one; it plays unencumbered audio formats like Ogg Vorbis; it has a little FM tuner. The iAudio might be the player for me.

Saturday, 29 July 2006

Bob Uhl, Advanced Homebrewer

Some of my regular readers may have noticed that this blog has been silent recently. Well, there’s been a reason: I was attending the Advanced Homebrewing Programme offered by the Siebel Institute in conjunction with Ft. Lewis College. The course, only in its third year, is a comprehensive review of brewing techniques & technology, beer styles, sensory perception of beer and so forth. It was incredible. More on it to follow…

Friday, 21 July 2006

Sharing a Bed Bad for Both Sexes

A new report suggests that sleeping in the same bed is bad for men & women—but worse for men. Not surprisingly, it appears that having someone else in one’s own bed disturbs one’s sleep patterns.

Of course, not having anyone to share a bed with might not be the best thing for one’s well-being either…

A Rooftop Porch and Meadow

A family in New York City have built a porch & meadow atop their building. It’s a pretty sweet idea; ideally all buildings would be designed for a full-scale garden to offset the ground the building uses.

Thursday, 20 July 2006

Mini-Racers

The Denver Post has an article up about child race-car drivers. One six year old drives a half-scale race car that gets up to about 80 mph. That is so cool! To be a kid driving a race car must be just this side of heaven.

The Hybrid Hoax

Apparently hybrids don’t get very good gas mileage after all. My ’91 Tercel gets the same mileage as an ’04 Prius, and better mileage than either the hybrid Civic or the Escape. Are modern cars so much heavier than 15 years ago? What’s slowing them down so much?

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Please Don't Send Me Microsoft Word Documents

Tristan Miller pleads that his correspondents not send him Microsoft Word files. I echo his plea: if you love me, you will not send me Microsoft (or Apple) formatted files.

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Why Urban Sprawl is a Conservative Issue

Michæl Lewyn has a brilliant piece detailing why urban sprawl should concern conservatives. We’re used to thinking that this is a leftist issue—and indeed the usual remedies are leftist and statist in the extreme. Lewyn, though, shows that it was actually state actions which encouraged suburban developments.

Starting in the 1930s the federal government started offering cheap mortgages to those who bought homes in low-risk areas—at the time, ’low-risk’ meant thinly-populated (e.g. suburban), new and lacking ’undesirables’ (at the time, it was explicit that this meant blacks & immigrants). Due to FHA policies, moving out of the city & into the suburbs was subsidised for the middle class—at the expense of everyone.

At the same time, the federal government was constructing low-income housing projects in the cities. This was effectively bribing the poor to stay urban while bribing the middle class to become suburban; hardly a conservative idea!

Then there’s the subject of transportation policy. Throughout the last century roads have been paid for in great part from general tax revenues rather than from usage fees or gasoline taxes; thus non-drivers have been subsidising drivers (and yes, non-drivers and drivers alike benefit from trucking—but mightn’t the railroads have fulfilled the same function if they hadn’t been forced to subsidise the truckers?). This has created a perverse incentive to drive, and once many people were driving on the roads, they demanded yet more roads. And these roads themselves have led to more sprawl, in a process most of us are beginning to accept: when was the last time that a highway expansion actually led to a shorter commute?

Then there’s the issue of education. Because of forced busing, the only way to keep one’s children from being educated alongside the lower-class was to leave the school district entirely. Subsidised mortgages and roads made that decision an easy one.

Then there’s the plague of zoning. Without it, suburbs might have just become new, upper-class cities, with walkable neighbourhoods and a vibrant blend of commercial & residential property. Instead, the State mandates that no business is allowed within a particular area; naturally that means no-one living there can walk to work, and thus that they must all own cars. Helpfully, these same zoning codes mandate parking spaces, further encouraging drivers (for example, when was the last time you saw any parking lot at capacity—that’s valuable property being put to no good use).

Lewin makes some excellent suggestions. Read the article for them!

Monday, 17 July 2006

New York City the Greenest in America?

Here’s an article which argues that Manhattan is the greenest city in the country. This seems counter-intuitive: it’s a great concrete jungle, with hardly anything green at all. But in terms of impact-per-person, it is far, far more ecologically-sound than the suburbs.

I wonder what can be done to make urban centres more pleasant to live in, so that people are drawn to them and away from the sprawling suburbs. What would a truly well-planned city look like? How would issues such as noise and privacy be handled? What would make living in a small apartment or condo seem more attractive than living in a McMansion on a half-acre of land?

Well, privacy can be assured with better construction—thicker walls, windows placed intelligently. I can imagine all streets be underground, or on elevated, fully-covered highways (increasing safety, since weather would not be a factor) so that the primary means of transportation would be on foot, via bicycle or public transport. And a large yard simply means having to do yardwork; maybe apartment building could be built with well-designed windowboxes for flowers, or stagered private gardens or something.

Sunday, 16 July 2006

Master and Commander, Again

More than two years ago I’d the very great privilege of seeing Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, perhaps the most important film of our age. At that time, I stated that it was masterfully done in every respect. Well, I just saw it again, and if anything my opinion is even higher. If you see only one film in your entire life, make it Master & Commander.

It is a film about duty, about courage, about holding fast when the odds are against one; a film about humility, about subjecting oneself to the concerns of the greater good. It should be the film of our age, but I understand that it didn’t earn enough in the theatres to merit a sequel. Shame upon movie-goers everywhere!

Perhaps the finest is when the 12- or 13-year-old Lord Blakeney—who has been left in command whilst the other officers board the enemey—determines that those left under his command need to themselves board in order to prevent a last-ditch attack. He gives the order, and men many multiples of his own age, including the ship’s doctor (an officer, but under the command of a barely-teenage boy) follow him. In that brief sequence is portrayed everything about honour and duty which can be portrayed.

Master & Commander should be required annual viewing for every young man from the age of 6 to 24; it’s that good. Only in our sad and lowly modern age would it not have won the box office success it deserved. If you’ve not seen it yet, see it now. If you’ve seen it already, see it again.

Friday, 14 July 2006

The USS Cairo

On 12 December 1862 the Confederate States of America achieved yet another of their technological firsts by becoming the first to sink an enemy ship by means of a mine, when they sank the USS Cairo by means of a mine detonated by wire. Unfortunately no Yankees were slain in the action—but still, we Southerners acquitted ourselves well.

Thursday, 13 July 2006

Beer Odyssey 2006

One week ago my college buddy Darren & I embarked on our second Beer Odyssey (the one last year having been such a very great success). This time our target was central and western Colorado (last year's epic having covered the northern end of my fair state). We set out on I-70 with but a single goal in mind: to enjoy great beer and beautiful scenery; we were to get both in spades, although I should note that as the driver for this expedition I enjoyed mere sips of beer whilst watching Darren drink. But I live here, and thus can always return, whilst he must travel from Texas.

Our first stop was the Dillon Dam Brewery, where I'd an excellent hamburger and he'd a passable bratwurst. I purchased a glass, a pack of cards, a guide to Rocky Mountain drinking holes, a growler of pilsener and a six pack of their lager. Thereafter we headed to Hanging Lake (just east of Glenwood Springs) where we saw one of the natural wonders of the world: a lake which collapsed from a cliff face, leaving a pair of cataracts and a beautiful crystal clear lake on the side of the cliff. The shores are composed of travertine in its primitive state. I can highly recommend it to anyone who's travelling in the area---it's roughly a three-hour hike, but worth every minute.

We journeyed on to Palisade, where we visited both the Palisade Brewery and Peach Street Distillers. The former had some excellent ales on tap; I left with a growler of their Dually Imperial Pale Ale, a deceptively smooth beer with a massively high alcohol content, and another growler of their peach ale. The latter had an exceedingly friendly staff; had I not been driving I would have dearly loved to settle down and throw back a few drinks with them. As it was I purchased a bottle of their Goat Vodka to bring home---a truly wonderful vodka, sweet with just a slight hint of maize (it's made from the semi-famous Olathe Sweet Corn).

We then continued on to Grand Junction and booked ourselves some rooms, then headed out to dinner at the Alehouse (a tied house of the Breckenridge Brewery) where I'd a steak and Darren'd a burger (and we shared some great pub chips); then we were on to the Kannah Creek Brewing Compant, a brewpub/pizzeria. I wasn't terribly impressed, to tell the truth: they struck me as more of a non-drinker's brewpub. Still, friendly staff. We walked to our rooms from the pub, and were soon fast asleep.

On Friday we arose and stopped briefly in Palisade to visit the Meadery of the Rockies, whereat I got a bottle of their Chocolate Cherry Velvet, a mead-port) as well as a six pack of perry (pear cider). We then headed back to Glenwood Springs, where we stopped off at the Glenwood Canyon Brew Pub, which I will wager money is owned by a Greek. Excellent food, wonderful beers. I believe that I brought back a growler of the raspberry wheat, IIRC. Darren had a gyro and I'd a very good fish & chips. Then we headed to Glenwood Caverns, a somewhat new attraction in the area. The caves are very cool, and the Alpine Coaster is loads of fun. We set back on the road just as he weather began to turn. We stopped off at the Gore Range Brewery, a nice little brewpub nestled in Edwards (an otherwise nondescript town); we'd an order of chips & salsa and I left with a growler of their red ale. As the weather turned decidedly nasty we stopped off in Frisco at the Backcountry Brewery for a dinner of pizzas---very good, and well-worth a repeat visit. This was the first brewery whereat I failed to buy a growler, not because their beers were subpar but because I can buy them here in town and the car was getting very cramped.

Then commenced one of the very worst drives of my life. There were several times when I thought our numbers were up; the worst was when a passing pickup's rain-shedding tyres obscured our windscreen so badly that I couldn't see for about a second and a half. On a downhill stretch. A curvy downhill stretch. At night. My life flashed before my eyes, I swear. But we got home in the end and our beer odyssey was done.

The following day we would visit a local C.B. & Pott's, catch Pirates of the Caribbean, stop off at Edward's (whereat I bought a fine pipe whereby I shall remember this trip always) and finally brew a batch of beer. Then on Sunday we went to church, had dinner at my folks' house and ended up visiting the finest beer bar in the country, the Falling Rock Tap House. After all this beer-chasing (and due to my own homebrewing efforts) my condo housed roughly 24 gallons of beer---that's over ¾ of a beer barrel! Along with all this beer (and the vodka) I also purchased much glassware---mostly pints, with a few shot glassed thrown in for good measure.

All in all it was an most wonderful trip. I'll be posting pictures soon.

One Month without a Car

Well, not quite—but I managed to go more than a whole month without driving my car into the office for work. Not too shabby, eh? Of course, this Tuesday I got a flat & I’ve been driving in until I’ve fixed the tyre. Sigh…

Tuesday, 04 July 2006

Eighties Music Videos

My old friend Lara posted a link to this cool collection of 80s music videos. Al I can say is that the art form was under-developed then. There’s really no excuse for it. But the music still rocks…

Monday, 03 July 2006

Irish Finally Commemorate the Battle of the Somme

Perhaps the majority of my blood is Irish---but I cannot be proud of the fact. The Irish are, after all, the inventors of modern-day terrorism; they slew women and children indiscriminately in their revolts against the British Crown, utilising terror killings and such to win their bloody independence. They long refused to recognise the sacrifice of their countrymen in the Great War: while the Protestant war memorial is well-tended, the Catholic one is small, shabby and decrepit. It took 20 years for the city of Dublin to approve a statue of a nationalist Irishman because of three little words: Killed in France (because he died fighting for the English). We are talking about the sort of people who can blather on about reparations for the potato famine, as though the English could be blamed for potato blight. We are talking about traitors who rebelled during the Great War. In the case of the IRA, we are talking about folks fighting on the side of the Nazis in the Second World War: Sean Russell sent bombs into England and travelled to & from Berlin, partly via U-Boat. Worst of all, Éamon de Valera---prime minister of the Irish Republic---visited the German ambassador to convey his official condolences after Hitler's suicide; the Secretary of External Affairs accompanied him and the next day the Irish President did the same.

No, I'm not terribly proud of my Irish heritage.

But the Irish are finally acknowledging their history in the Great War in general and the Battle of the Somme in particular in an excellent manner. One of the better articles details the first day of the battle, a day which started in hope and ended in misery. Another article examines the mistreatment of war veterans by the nationalists: as Ireland became more polarised, Remembrance Day ceremonies faded out to a din of Sinn Fein protests; worse, the IRA murdered over 200 war veterans.

One should note that more Irishmen died in the first two days of the Somme than rebelled in the Easter Uprising. Many were nationalists, yet they fought for King and Country nonetheless.

The Ninetieth Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme

Ninety years ago on Saturday the Battle of the Somme began. On that first day there were nearly 60,000 casualties; almost 20,000 died. By the end, there would be 600,000 casualties, of whom more than 120,000 died. In a few months an entire generation fell. Practises such as Pals’ Brigades (military units formed of men from the same town, or school, or place of business—a good idea in earlier wars) meant that a few sweeps of a machine gun could cut down all men of fighting age from a village. The terrible new weapons of warfare had never been tested against civilised foes, and tactical doctrine couldn’t find a solution.

And of course the great cost paid by the Allies demanded an equal price be paid by the vanquished Central Powers—and the vindictive Treaty of Versailles led directly the Second World War.

Church Air is 'Threat to Health'

The BBC reports on a Dutch study which has found that church air is chock-full of pollutants from candles and incense. It turns out that church air is ridden with a number of potent carcinogens—more than air beside a road travelled by 45,000 cars per day.

We know how this will turn out: first churches will be asked to cut on candles and incense. Maybe electric lamps will be suggested instead, or plug-in air fresheners. But some churches will adhere to their long-hallowed ways, and the studies will continue to mount up. Then special taxes will be imposed upon candles and incense to discourage their use. And yet still some churches will continue as they always have. Meanwhile, most people will have left such things in the past, and will complain when visiting a traditionalist of the odour of snuffed candles and the reek of smoke and charcoal. And in the end all churches will be banned from using the accessories of their faith, supposedly for the good of their congregations and clergy (who never wanted to let go of their traditions in the first place).

First they came for the smokers, and you didn’t speak up because you weren’t a smoker. Then they came for the overweight, and you didn’t speak up because you weren’t obese. Then they came for the candle-burners…


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