Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

We're Driving Toward Disaster

James Kunstler argues that Americans are literally driving toward disaster. We think that we can magically wish our way out of the energy and food cost increases.

He may not be correct that we’ve reached Peak Oil; however, I think it’s pretty clear that whether it is in the future or the recent past, we will not have cheap oil forever. There is certainly a speculative boom in oil right now; the price should come down somewhat at some point (of course, speculative bubbles can last for years…). But in the long term, we know that oil will get scarcer, and burning it in order to get around town just won’t be an efficient use thereof.

Return of the Lisp Machine

Arto Bendiken notes that Lively Kernel is a reinvention of the Lisp Machine concept. For those who’ve not heard of them, Lisp Machines were really great pieces of work: at a time when command-lines and static software which crashed were the norm, they provided full GUIs, dynamic software and elegant error recovery. Perhaps Lively Kernel can bring some of that coolness into the 21st century.

Computing really is about continually reinventing the wheel.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Australian Driver Hits Fifty Cyclists

An Australian driver in a fit of road-pique (I like that better than road-rage—it conveys the pathetic nature of the emotion better) tried to kill a line of 50 cyclists.

’Tis a pity Australia has done away with the death penalty; the driver is a prime candidate.

The Freedom to Say No

Elaine McArdle reports that gender disparity in science and technology may be a result of gender preferences—that is, two different studies show that men and women seek different things (big surprise, huh?). Of course, anyone who actually dealt with men and women would know this, but I guess it has taken science time to move from thinking of women as defective men, to thinking of them as the same as men, and finally to thinking of them as something different from but no less important than men. This is progress.

The details of the studies are interesting: one found that men preferred working with tools and women preferred dealing with people; another found that math-precocious men preferred to work with inorganic stuff while math-precocious women preferred working with living stuff. This led to more men in engineering and more women in medicine and biology.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Lockhart's Lament

The Mathematical Association of America have published and insightful condemnation of the methods by which we teach mathematics. A must-read for anyone who has ever learnt math, taught math or who has children who may one day learn math. Really good stuff.

Me, I think math should be taught using rhythmomachia. But I’m a loon.

Sunblock Kills Coral

It turns out that sunblock kills coral reeves (yes, I prefer reeves to reefs). So it looks like the choice is to burn and get cancer, or to kill coral—or to stay in the shade. I choose the shade.

In Which Robert Turns 30

Well, I’ve managed to make it through thirty years of life. I don’t really know how it happened: one day I was in college thinking that the thirty-year-old alumni were ancient, and then one day I was old.

I guess it’s immature to want to be younger, and I don’t actually want to be a twenty-year-old again, as I was kinda a twit at that age. All of us are, probably. OTOH, it sure was nice to be so carefree and sheltered. My greatest worry was that I’d make a bad grade or get caught brewing beer in the dorm. In the grand scheme of things, doing badly in school or getting scolded for breaking the rules are nothing. It was nice.

It’s not too bad being thirty though. I can do things I couldn’t dare to imagine when I was twenty. I can buy things I couldn’t afford. I’m a lot smarter and a lot more experienced.

It is a bit annoying to think how old thirty-year-olds once looked to me, and realise that I look that old now. Oh well…

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

John Graduates!

On Saturday my brother John Richard Uhl graduated from Mesa State College with a degree in that queen of subjects, History. For the first time in over a year, all four of us Uhl brothers were together to celebrate. We went to church, broke bread, drank beer, smoked cigars, saw Prince Caspian (about which more later) and just generally enjoyed one another’s company. It was great spending time with one another; I know that my parents were glad to have all their boys with them again.

I had given John a hard time in the past for taking so long to graduate (he’s twenty-five: at his age I owned a house and Tom was married), but I take it back now. For one thing, he paid his own tuition—it’s not like he was living off of our parents the whole time. And if a guy is paying his own way, who cares how much of his life he spends learning? In fact, that’s exactly what John was doing: he figured that he might as well make the most of the chance to educate himself. I can’t say that I disagree. He’s certainly had some great experiences, not least spending a year in Greece studying archæology.

After church on Sunday mom put on a party for John. She baked and cooked and baked and laid out quite a spread: sandwiches and cookies and cakes and meringues, oh my! It was a very pleasant afternoon.

Now that he has graduated, he’ll be working this summer and then will head off to OCS in hopes of becoming a naval officer. His studies in history should have him well-prepared for that job.

Congratulations to him, and best of luck in his new career!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Graduation Day

Today marks eight years since Black Sunday, that sad day when I donned cap and gown and was cast headlong into the working world. I’ve since spent twice as many years out of school as I did in it.

When I look at what I wrote on the fourth anniversary of my graduation, I don’t see that I’m much further along at 29 than I was at 25: making a little more; still ensconced in my condo; still single; still driving the same car; still with very few local friends. But there’s hope: I’m working on a shift in my career to something I find more interesting; I’m renovating my condo; I’ve actually been on some dates. I’m actually pretty happy with my car, though. It’s nice driving an auto that will be old enough to vote next year. And I’ve added a few friends, which is progress. Finally, I’m working on a pretty big change—one which I’ll announce here if everything works out as planned.

So things are looking up. But, today just as four years ago and as eight years ago, I miss school. I miss being surrounded by my friends, guys with interests the same as mine. I miss being surrounded by the highest concentration of attractive women I’ll ever experience. I miss being able to pull three all-nighters in a row. I miss employing some of the best minds in the world to educate me. I miss not having bills to pay every month. I miss getting three months of vacation every year. I miss being young and foolish and unconcerned with the real world.

On the other hand, I quite like having money. I quite like being able to afford the things I ant to own. I like owning my own place, and setting my own rules. I rather enjoy not being a complete and utter git (well, by comparison with by 18- or 19-year-old self anyway).

Still, I miss sharing an apartment with Phil and Darren, brewing beer in the dorm kitchen, sneaking girls in past visitation hours, going to parties, hanging out at the library, cutting class to go golfing, going shooting in Oklahoma on the weekends, walking to class with a pipe clenched in my teeth, wearing a tweed coat every day and otherwise just plain having fun.

Today, as four years ago, as eight years ago, I miss school.

The Truth about Health Care

Dr. Lawrence Huntoon has written a great article about health care costs. He says pretty much what I’ve been saying for years, so naturally I think him a genius. Medical insurance is no longer insurance at all, but rather inefficiently pre-paid medical care. Since it is generally obtained through an employer (due to tax laws dating back to the Second World War), it is more inefficient and harder to keep. The uninsured face a nasty tax liability ($19,000,000,000 per year). The way to fix rapidly-escalating health care costs is via a market mechanism using medical savings accounts.

Of course, this applies to just about everything. We’d all be better off if the money we’d spent on Social Security all these years were in a 401(k) or IRA or other investment vehicle.

No Dashes or Spaces

We’ve all seen those credit-card-entry (and other) forms which ask us to leave out dashes, spaces and other punctuations when entering our numbers. Never mind that credit card numbers are naturally written with spaces, that Social Security numbers use dashes and that phone numbers have a number of different representations involving dashes, parentheses, spaces, periods and plus signs. The really ridiculous thing is that removing extraneous punctuation is dead-simple for a computer to do. But these lazy programmers offload a single line of code’s worth of work onto the thousands or millions of visitors to their sites.

Well, Steve Friedl has decided to shame these morons. His well-intentioned attempt is probably doomed, but I wish him luck.

Wednesday, 07 May 2008

Stephen's Back!

One week ago early this morning (very early this morning…) my youngest brother returned from his first deployment to Iraq. Thanks be to God, he is healthy and unharmed. It was good to hang out with him, Mom, Tom and Em in San Diego for a few days.

Tuesday, 06 May 2008

Let Loose the Washboards of War

It appears that American soldiers overseas have rediscovered the utility of washboards. America’s last surviving washboard company makes a portable kit consisting of a small washboard (originally designed for travelling salesman), a tin bucket, lye soap, clothesline, clothespins and foot powder. They’re $25 and thousands have been sent to the troops.

I’m thinking of buying a set for myself…

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