Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Third Battalion, Fifth Marines

While checking out my kid brother’s battalion, I discovered some pretty cool history. Among other places, they’ve fought in:

  • Château-Thierry (I’ve been there!)
  • Nicaragua in the ’20s
  • Guadalcanal
  • Peleliu
  • Okinawa
  • Inchon
  • Chosin Reservoir
  • Da Nang
  • Desert Shield
  • Desert Storm
  • Iraqi Freedom
  • Fallujah

They’ve done some pretty cool stuff.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

In Praise of Skinned Knees

Conn Iggulden, author of the superlative Dangerous Book for Boys (which I highly recommend), has a great article In Praise of Skinned Knees, which talks about the glories of boyhood and the necessity of preserving them for future generations of boys.

Friday, 22 June 2007

First-borns Get the Brains

New research indicates what I’ve always known: that firstborn sons are smarter than our siblings. The average IQ of first-born men is 103.2; for second-borns, 101.2; for third-borns, 100.0. Interesting, second-borns whose older siblings died in infancy had average IQs of 102.9; third-borns whose older siblings died young had IQs of 102.6. The New York Times has some analysis of the issue, including one strange fact: before age twelve, younger siblings are smarter. Very strange.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Toronto Cyclists Make Own Lanes

A group of Toronto cyclists has taken matters into their own hands, forming guerilla teams and spraypainting bike lanes on dangerous streets. Strangely, the city which cannot find time to paint new lanes can find time to erase the ones these guys are painting.

Me, I’d just install tyre slashers with a 1-foot gap every block or so: cars can’t pass, but bikes can. Instant safe roads, for pedestrians, animals, children, cyclists.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Born Before 1980?

This has been going around the net.

To All the Kids Who Survived the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s…

  • First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant.
  • They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn’t get tested for diabetes.
  • Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints.
  • We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.
  • As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.
  • We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this.
  • We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank Kool-Aid made with sugar, but we weren’t overweight because.

We Were Always Outside Playing!

  • We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.
  • No one was able to reach us all day, and we were okay
  • We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.
  • We did not have Playstations, Nintendos, Xboxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVDs, no surround-sound, CDs or iPods! No cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or chat rooms…

We Had Friends and We Went Outside and Found Them!

  • We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.
  • We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
  • We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays,
  • Made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.
  • We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!
  • Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn’t had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!
  • The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learnt how to deal with it all!

If you are one of them, congratulations!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives so much, than for our own good.

It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

Friday, 15 June 2007

America's War on Science

Few people know that it is now illegal to own lab equipment and chemicals in many states, because we’re afraid of terrorists, drug dealers and illegal fireworks. Never mind that kids learn a lot from chemistry sets. Never mind that terrorists can get their raw materials elsewhere, that drug makers aren’t doing anything wrong and that illegal fireworks have a time-honoured tradition. No, ve muss fun outschtampen!


How Children Lost the Right to Roam

The Daily Mail have a great article about how children lost the right to roam over the course of four generations, using the example of one family. The great-grandfather (still alive today) used to walk six miles to go fishing at age eight; his son would walk about a mile in the woods; his daughter would walk to a swimming pool half a mile away; her son is allowed to walk to the end of the street—a mere 300 yards.

Granted, I’m not a parent, and granted parents want their children to be safe. But is it necessary to be so frightfully paranoid? I blame the news media: there have always been lunatics and kidnappers, but they are incredibly rare (think about it—do you know anyone whose children have been kidnapped?). Due to the news, though, parents are fooled into thinking that the risk is more than infinitesimally negligible.

My own parents wouldn’t let us past the end of the street until we were 10, and wouldn’t allow us near the lake until after that—and they gave us incredible physical freedom compared to most parents.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007


Slashdot just published my review of Linux System Administration. This makes me a kind of geek celebrity, I think.

Monday, 11 June 2007

The World Beard Championship

You know, I’m proud of my beard. It’s a small and rather pitiful thing compared to the ones entered into the World Beard & Moustache Championships. There’s a gallery of contestants and champions from past championships. Wow! I am so envious of these fellows. Granted, this not being 19th-century Central Europe (note how the Germans have the world lead still…) none of them will ever have a date—but a beard will never want you to watch Lifetime with it, which is a definite advantage.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

One Year of Linux

No, not me (I’ve been using Linux for almost nine years now); Mark Pilgrim recently completed one year of using Linux (he switched from Mac OS). His verdict? Well, he prefers Linux to Mac OS and Windows. No real surprise there…

The Greatest Office Ever

I want to work for this company. And not just because of all the cute gals.

Saturday, 09 June 2007

last.fm: How Eclectic is Your Music?

Take your top 20 artists. For each of these artists, collect the top 5 similar artists. The resulting number of unique artists is your eclectic score. If the score is small (extreme = 5) your musical preferences are very limited, and if it is large (larger than 80, extreme = 100), then you have an eclectic musical preference. You can compute your own score.

My eclectic score is currently 84/100

The 84 related artists for my profile are:

  • AC/DC (twice)
  • Aerosmith
  • Air
  • All Girl Summer Fun Band
  • Armando Trovaioli
  • BR5-49
  • Beck
  • Belle and Sebastian (twice)
  • Benny Goodman
  • Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
  • Billy Joe Shaver
  • Blackstone Valley Sinners
  • Blondie
  • Blur
  • Bob Dylan (twice)
  • Bon Jovi
  • Bruno Nicolai
  • Buckskin Stallion
  • Camera Obscura
  • Cat Power
  • Cherry Poppin' Daddies
  • CocoRosie
  • David Bowie (twice)
  • Eagles
  • Elton John (twice)
  • Eric Clapton (twice)
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Go Sailor
  • Goldfrapp
  • Guns N' Roses
  • Hugo Montenegro
  • Jane Baxter Miller
  • Jay Munly
  • John Barry
  • Jon Rauhouse
  • Kelly Hogan
  • Led Zeppelin (thrice)
  • Luke Haines
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Mark Knopfler
  • Metallica
  • Moby
  • Morrissey
  • Munly
  • New Order
  • Nine Inch Nails
  • Piero Piccioni
  • Pink Floyd (twice)
  • Placebo
  • Pulp
  • Queen (thrice)
  • R.E.M.
  • Radiohead
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Rosie Flores
  • Saint Etienne
  • Sam Prekop
  • Slim Cessna's Auto Club
  • Stephin Merritt
  • Stereolab
  • Suede
  • The 6ths
  • The Apples in Stereo
  • The Auteurs
  • The Beatles (thrice)
  • The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  • The Clientele
  • The Cure
  • The Denver Gentlemen
  • The Field Mice
  • The Gothic Archies
  • The High Llamas
  • The Magnetic Fields
  • The Meat Purveyors
  • The Rolling Stones (four times)
  • The Sea and Cake
  • The Smiths
  • The Stone Roses
  • The Who
  • The Woodys
  • Tullycraft
  • U2
  • Waco Brothers

I always knew I'd eclectic tastes, in music as elsewhere.

Friday, 08 June 2007

Quadriplegic Dies in Washington, DC Jail

A man paralysed since age four and sentenced to ten days in jail for smoking marijuana to ease his pain has died in custody. Isn’t reassuring to know that the majestic power of the State is being used to kill cripples? I thought not.

Thursday, 07 June 2007

How Two Months' Salary is a Lifetime of Evil

Here’s an interview with an author investigating the diamond industry. Every intelligent person now knows that diamonds aren’t particularly special gemstones, and that the engagement ring tradition is a marketing invention less than 80 years old; what isn’t as well known is how corrupt the industry itself is.

After Ubuntu, Windows Looks Increasingly Bad

A former Windows user details his experiences after using Ubuntu Linux for some time. His verdict? After Ubuntu, Windows looks increasingly bad, increasingly archaic. increasingly unfriendly.

Tuesday, 05 June 2007

Orrin Hatch is a Hypocrite

Back in ’03 he stated that folks with unauthorised copies of software should have their computers automatically destroyed—but at the very same time he said that his web site was using an unauthorised copy of some software. Very amusing.

Monday, 04 June 2007

Cycling in Amsterdam

Here’s a photo essay showing how accepted cycling is in Amsterdam. Everyone rides, sometimes two or three to a bike; folks ride in dress clothing; no-one wears helmets. It’s a true cycling paradise.

Of course, that’s no accident. The Dutch made a choice to encourage cycling and discourage cars—and they’re much better off for it.

The Truth about Mythic Creatures

A great little set of mythical creatures (e.g. unicorns & cyclops) and how they may have come about.

'No-Knock' Searches Get People Killed

Vin Suprynowicz writes about the scandal of no-knock searches and polices misconduct. From the article:

On Nov. 21 of last year, Atlanta police planted marijuana on Fabian Sheats, a suspected street dealer. They told Sheats they would let him go if he gave them something. Sheats obligingly lied that he had spotted a kilogram of cocaine nearby, giving them the address of the elderly spinster Miss Kathryn Johnston, who neither used nor dealt drugs, but who did live in fear of break-ins in her crime-infested neighbourhood.

Police then lied to a judge, claiming they had actually purchased drugs at the Johnston house, acquired one of those once-rare no-knock warrants, and violently battered down the reinforced metal door of a private home where there were no drugs.

Miss Johnston fired a warning shot at the unknown people busting down her door. That bullet lodged in the roof of her porch, injuring no one. Police replied by firing 39 rounds at her, hitting her five times, and wounding each other with another five rounds—though they lied and said they’d been shot by Miss Johnston.

They then handcuffed the old woman as she bled to death on the floor, and searched her house. Finding no drugs, they planted three bags of marijuana.

Next day, the cops picked up one Alex White, an informant, advising him that they needed him to lie, saying that he had purchased cocaine at Johnston’s house. White refused, managed to escape, and went to the media with the story.

The policemen in question were given a plea bargain in which they plead guilty of manslaughter; IMHO they should have been given death.

There’s more to the story: a man on death row for firing on intruders (the intruders turned out to be unannounced police in a mistaken raid); the Branch Davidian raid in Waco (also supported by a lying warrant); a father shot dead while holding is infant son; a woman who shot a police officer believing he was burglar. Read on and be shocked.

A Short (and Selective) US Military History

Very cool video set to Tschaikovsky’s 1812 Overture which reviews various US military actions since the 18th century. Good & stirring.

Sunday, 03 June 2007

What are Capabilities?

EROS was a nifty operating system project which implemented some excellent ideas; one of these was capabilities—a novel approach to handling security and access controls. One of the developers of EROS wrote an introduction to capabilities which is useful to understand this intriguing concept.

A Guided Tour of Emacs

The GNU project now has a guided tour of emacs which shows many of the neat features of the world’s best text editor/web browser/mail reader/news client/integrated development environment/scheduler/task planner/personal organiser/kitchen sink.

If you don’t already use emacs, take a peek to see what a real text manipulation environment is like. If you do already use emacs, take a look to see what features it offers which you may not yet use.

Saturday, 02 June 2007

Pole Wakes from Coma to a New World

In a real-life version of Goodbye, Lenin, a Pole who suffered a coma 19 years ago has woken to a new, free world. When he was struck by a train in ’88 Poland (and the rest of Eastern Europe) suffered under the Soviet boot—and now it’s free. How wonderful for him, and what a great bit of perspective for the rest of us: he points out that he doesn’t see what all the kids complaining into their mobile phones are whining about: the world is pretty good from where he’s standing.

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