Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl


Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Prof. Jim Knowlton, RIP

When I got home Saturday evening I discovered a message waiting from one of my school friends. She’d called to let me know that Professor Jim Knowlton had died. He was my boss my first year at Austin College, while I was working at the Department of Foreign Languages. Although he’d given up pipe-smoking years before, he gave me my first high-quality pipe, an Italian Talamona, which I am smoking as I write these words. He was a cool fellow (taught a bridge class which I took), and not terribly old (just a decade older than my own parents). It was great to see him again when I went to my reunion; I had been looking forward to doing the same at the next. Instead, I've sent a sum to the scholarship has been established in his memory at Austin College.

Here’s another obituary, this one from his hometown paper in New Hampshire.

Do You Have Feeling of Inadequacy?

Do you have feelings of inadequacy? Do you suffer from shyness? Do you sometimes wish you were more assertive? If you answered yes to any of these questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist about tequila.

Hilarious video…

Monday, 30 July 2007

19th Century Letter-Writing Etiquette

I just found this cool letter-writing guide from 1896. It’s chick-full of cool stuff, like a list of smart abbreviations (e.g. ult. for last month and prox. for next month), or how to address a letter a friend is carrying for you, or the proper tone to take.

Our ancestors had such a better grasp of the social niceties than we do in this absurdly informal age.

State Considers School Outing a Commercial Venture

Here in sunny Colorado a state Parks & Recreation police officer cited teachers for organising a river outing, claiming that they need a commercial outfitter’s license. Never mind that a school is not a commercial venture.

Never mind, too, that there’s no reason that there should be such a thing as an outfitter’s license. If you & I want to go rafting in public water, we have that right. If I want to pay you to show me the way, that is none of the State’s business. You’ll note that an outfitter helped write the law. Like most professional licensing schemes, this is all about limiting the number of outfitters out there, making things more profitable for those in business while putting obstacles in the way of those trying to start out.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

101 Ten-minute Recipes

The New York Times offers 101 10-minute recipes. Some decent stuff here.

Should Parents Play with Children?

Apparently the idea of parents playing with children is very recent; most of the world would think it pretty strange for a parent to play with his kid’s toys. I’d tend to agree: play with toys is for children, and can be taught by other children; an adult’s job is to teach children to be adults.

I don’t recall my parents playing with us, although they probably did to some extent. They generally showed us things we couldn’t figure out on our own: how to ride a bicycle; how to bait a hook properly and so forth. But I don’t remember Mom or Dad ever sitting down on the den floor and putting Legos or Construx together with us. I don’t think that was really their job; we could figure out how to do stuff on our own (indeed, it’s important for creativity that kids do learn how to figure things out); our parents showed us the stuff we couldn’t figure out, or that would take too long to do. They facilitated our growth into healthy, intelligent, capable adults—isn’t that enough?

Honesty isn't Always the Best Policy

Simon Baron-Cohen has an article about autism & honesty. Apparently those who are autistic have difficulty understanding other people and hence deception—even when it’s socially expected to deceive. Baron-Cohen gives the example of one who says that haircut is awful: He means no offense in such a personal remark. He is simply saying what he thinks, and [doesn’t] see the purpose of saying the opposite of what he thinks.

I sympathise with this. If one looks a fool, isn’t it best to be told so? Then one is able to fix the situation. That makes sense to me. I’d rather know the truth and thus be able to act on it, then to make decisions based on false assumptions.

I remember when I was a little boy that a girl gave my brother Thomas a book; as soon as I saw it I blurted out that he already had it, causing quite a lot of ruckus from my parents. I wouldn’t do it now (the information is useless by the time the gift is given), and I can understand how that particular instance could be perceived as mean; I feel sorry for it now. I didn’t mean it to be hurtful, though: I just meant it as a statement of fact. He already had the book; he didn’t need another. I think in my head I may have had an idea that she could take it back and keep it for herself since it was superfluous.

I suppose that this just goes to show that I was a strange little boy.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Asperger's Test

So I just took this test for Asperger’s Syndrome. A score of 32 indicates Asperger’s or high-functioning autism; a score of 34 or more is considered extreme. I scored a 37. This is probably not a good thing.

Granted, it’s not the same as going to an actual psychologist. Still, one must wonder.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

What a Show!

Last night I went with John & his girlfriend Gen to see Dolores O’Riordan (former lead singer for The Cranberries). It was an incredible show!

The opener was singer/songwriter Jessie Baylin. Unfortunately, we missed much of her set, but what I heard was just amazing. Her voice is beautiful, and she’s not too hard on the eyes either:

Jessie Baylin

Keep an eye out for great things to come from her in the future. I got her five-song EP part of You (appropriately titled, since the songs are part of her forthcoming album You!…), and every song is wonderful. Quirky & fun, with just enough sexiness to tie everything together.

O’Riordan’s set was great. She alternated old favourites like Linger and Zombie with stuff from her solo album, and all was worth hearing. Her new stuff is much rockier than the earlier, poppier Cranberries work—but it was all quite enjoyable. Listening to the older songs made me feel as though I were back in college again, always a fine feeling.

Hopefully I’ll be able to catch both these talented singers passing through Denver again.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Shakespeare in the Bush

What would African tribesmen make of Hamlet? Is the story universal, or would they perceive it through their own lens?

Saturday, 14 July 2007

What a Trip!

I recently got back from an eight-day vacation with two of my three brothers. John, Stephen & I first headed to Chicago, where we spent time with several of my college buddies: Sachin (a surgeon in residency somewhere in town); his girlfriend Rozi (also a physician); Phil (a doctor of chemistry in Dallas); his wife Jess (a doctor of psychology); Crispy (a theatre designer in Indiana); his wife Kendall (director of development at Purdue University); and Darren (an advertising executive in Dallas). You can see that my friends aren’t exactly a bunch of slackers…

While there, we enjoyed beers and food at the following Chicago joints (in order):

The Hop Haus
A top-scale burger & beer place with such exotic meats as venison and kangaroo.
The Kerryman
A nice Irish-themed pub where we were served by a nice Irish waitress. John fell asleep in a couch there (we’d been up since 0300), causing the staff to think he was passed out…
Rock Bottom
Had it not been recommended by my friend Randy Mosher, I’d have passed it up—but the brewer there really knows his trade, and the beers were all quite amazing. I wish I’d gotten a chance to stop in again.
Green Door Tavern
Our first taste of Goose Island beer. Wow! They’ve an incredible malty house taste to their brews—very enjoyable.
Gino’s East
A world-famous deep-dish pizza joint (visited by royalty, even). It has an interesting hook: the walls are absolutely covered in graffiti; visitors are encouraged to write, paint, draw, carve into ’em. Thus ended Friday.
Yolk (Chicagoans seem to like single-word names for restaurants)
A great brunch place.
Vong’s Thai Kitchen
Good Thai food. The waitress there thought I was cute, or at least claimed to. This got her a pretty hefty tip…
Sushi Samba
A fancy sushi joint. Very strange restrooms: the men’s and women’s rooms are parallel, separated by a transparent pane of glass, so it feels like they’re the same room. Avoiding eye contact is an artform.
Taste of Chicago
The largest food festival in the world. This year saw a salmonella outbreak at the Pars Cove booth—fortunately none of our number suffered any illness.
Gaylord India Restaurant
Very good Indian food.

We also saw:

Michigan Avenue
A mile of shops & stores.
Navy Pier
A public waterfront amusement park. There’s a nifty stained glass museum we all enjoyed.
Museum of Science and Industry
Home of the U-505, a nice big war trophy.
Annunciation Cathedral
The service was 95% Greek, and the sermon was entirely Greek save for the first two minutes.

We then headed for Virginia Beach, where we stayed with some old friends of our parents who own a house on the beach—and the beach itself, which is pretty cool. We visited our old house; saw our old neighbours (still there, 14 years later); went through Colonial Williamsburg; saw some old friends; enjoyed two great Fourth of July parties (at one of which we drank with our mom’s best friend—never expected that in a million years); and visited Jamestown, the site of the first English settlement in the New World—we even stood in the church where the first representative government on this continent was convened!

Finally we headed north to Washington DC where we’d meant to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, the map we printed out had the old location, and by the time we discovered this it was too late to turn around; it gives us something to do next time. We stayed the night at the home of an old college buddy of our parents, saw the Washington Monument and the World War II memorial, and then headed home the next day.

It was an excellent vacation. My brothers are great guys with whom I really enjoyed spending time. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Tom & his wife Emily could have joined us.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Proper Email Etiquette

Daring Fireball points out that top-posting in emails is rude. That is, you should put your reply after whatever it is you are replying to. One of my brothers enver does this, and it’s making me reconsider my will…

Parisian Bike Kiosks

Paris now has bike rental kiosks spaced 300 yards apart throughout the city. It’s free for the first half-hour of riding (enough to go about 6 miles), one euro for the next half-hour, two for the third half-hour and so on; there’s also an annual fee of €29, with one-day and one-week fees. One can check bike availability with a mobile phone or on the web. This is really cool, and could potentially revolutionise transport in that city, if they can adequately deal with vandalism and theft. A Flickr user has pictures of the kiosks, which are quite stylish.

Kuler

Adobe have a really cool web colour selector freely available. Just pick a base colour and a rule to use, and it will derive other colours to use (I used a similar free tool to pick the colours for this blog). Requires Flash, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Soccer Fans Punish Police Brutality

Now here’s a remarkable video. A soccer fan runs across the field waving a banner, and police run up to arrest him. Fair enough so far. But they start to beat him repeatedly. One of the players gets annoyed at this, and head-kicks a cop. Then the video skips ahead, where fans and players are all over the field, beating and kicking the police and driving them away. It’s a glorious blow against police brutality!

I’ll note that the cops in the video have the absurd pseudo-military haircuts one expects from the worst sort of policeman—the sort who is in a police force because no military would take him. It fits exactly with my idea of the sort of cop who’d be needlessly brutal: a small man with a power complex.

Not all cops are bad; no doubt there are many who actually want to do good, prosecute real crimes and apprehend real criminals. It’s even conceivable that the vast majority are good and decent. But there are far, far too many who are rotten.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Policeman Murders Innocent

Here’s video of a policeman murdering an innocent man. As you can see clearly from the video, the policeman lied when he stated that he was surrounded, that he was attacked, or that the man he shot had anything to do with an altercation. And yet he got away with it.

The Beauty of LaTeX

Dario Taraborelli has some examples of how text typeset with LaTeX is demonstrably more beautiful than that done in Microsoft Word. LaTeX is an amazing typesetting system, one I cannot recommend highly enough.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

US Gasoline Consumption

The Economist has a great graphic displaying our gas consumption vs. that of the next twenty countries. Granted, the US is much larger in area & population than several of those countries—but we have a comparable standard-of-living to the EU, less population and less area, and the nations therein appear to use far less gasoline that do we. Can’t we do something to remedy this?!?

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Britain Raises Alert Level to 'Quite Elevated Indeed'

It appears that the UK has raised its national alert level to Quite Elevated Indeed, and has asked its populace to keep a sharp lookout for diverse people engaged in activities.

Nicotine, the Wonder Drug

Researchers are developing new drugs based on nicotine. They are similar, but less addictive and are delivered less carcinogenically. They’re good for ulcerative colitis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes and much more.

Me, I’ll just smoke a pipe…


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