Thursday, October 25, 2007

Yaay! Gadgets! Boo! Blatant Inconsistency!

So, thanks to bOING bOING, I found the supremely geeky Wired Test special section is available online as a PDF. Hooray! But there's a rather glaring inconsistency that makes me really wonder how much, if any, editorial oversight went into it.

On page 58 of the PDF (Page 81 in the print version), they endorse paying $130 for a 4-foot Monster HDMI cable on the grounds that the ends fell off the cheap Chinese cable they compared it with (and found no difference). It's clearly a bit tongue-in-cheek, but okay. Then, just 7 pages later, they review a $100 Belkin HDMI cable, and complain that it's too pricey, albeit more rugged, and they'd rather save $80 and get a cheap $20 no-brand cable. Er, what? How is the Belkin cable too expensive, but the Monster one worth it?

I'm not taking a position on whether either of these cables is overpriced (not here, anyway), but I don't see how you can take seriously a review from a magazine whose editors can't even maintain a consistent editorial position for 7 pages.

Don't Take Pictures in Japan in Summer

My nifty little HP927 has a handy feature on it that gives you advice about the picture you just took-- if it was out of focus, or if you should try shutter priority or aperture priority or the like. Because of it, I learned something new-- that CCDs are fairly temperature-sensitive, and if you take pictures too far outside their ideal operating temperature, you'll get poor (usually grainy) results. Unfortunately, that temperature range apparently does not include "Japan in the summer", because about 80% of the outdoor pictures I took there caused that warning to pop up. It's a bit frustrating, because there's only so much I could do to cool things off, and pouring cold water over it (my personal favourite method of cooling down) was probably a warranty violation of some sort.

The Street of Plastic Food

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that every restaurant in Japan is in need of plastic food to put in a display case in its front window. On the 27th of August, we visited Kappabashi-dori, where Tokyo restauranteurs go to buy their plastic food replica pieces. It's an amazing place-- full of restaurant supply stores where you can buy anything from a small ceramic rice bowl to a full kitchen's worth of pots and pans..

Walking around, I found a knife shop that had some of the most impressive knives I've ever seen. The proprietor seemed to be very flattered that I wanted to take pictures of the knives; from what I could tell, one of his assistants actually made them. I particularly like the crab. :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Walking My Feet Off In Japan

Since I got to Japan a few days ago, I have done nothing but walk everywhere. For a place as teeming with trains as this one, that may sound surprising, but in fact there's very little else to do to get around here besides walk. Taxis are godawful expensive, and buses are confusing, a bit. Anyway, my feet are SORE.

When we got in on Sunday, we first checked into our hotel, a Japanese-style place called Kikuya Ryokan. Well, we tried to. As a matter of fact, I ended up going almost exactly the wrong way until a very nice gentleman with very poor English pointed us in the right direction. Then we headed over to Yotsuya for Mass-- we were late, a bit, but it was okay. A very nice church it was, with a design in the roof that echoed the imperial chrysanthemum.

Yesterday, we found out that pretty much nothing in Tokyo is open on Monday. So, um, avoid Tokyo on a Monday if you're sightseeing is the lesson here, I guess. Instead, we visited the National Science Museum, and saw some very cool exhibitions on the history and peoples of Japan. Then, out of sheer boredom, we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano, more or less because it was there. We took in a very gorgeous shrine, the Zenkouji Shrine, and then headed back. The train was about 100 minutes or so between Tokyo and Nagano stations-- look that up if you want to see how far that is. It's pretty impressive, if you ask me.

Today we started off with a tour of Asakusa's most famous temple, the Sensoji Temple. The street leading up to it、Nakamise-dori, is full of shops just ready and waiting to part the unwary from their vacation cash. Then we headed over to Harajuku, and saw the Meiji Shrine, created by Emperor Meiji, who opened up Japan to the world shortly after Admiral Perry made it a moot point anyway. From there, we took in Tokyo Tower (3m taller than the Eiffel Tower, but only because of its antennae mast. ;-) A brief stop in Shinjuku for dinner, and then back to the hotel.

Tomorrow is still up in the air a bit. We'll just have to see how it goes.

No pictures yet, I'm afraid; we have to use the hotel's computer, and I don't know if I can use it to upload (anyway, this keyboard is a pain, as it keeps shifting randomly into Japanese-- which I could probably type, but you probably couldn't read. :).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

All this needs is a book...

All this needs is a book to combine all my favourite hobbies:


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bujold, and Zen Christianity

Having been a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books for some time now (read: Since I found "The Vor Game" on clearance in a used bookstore in the late '90s or so), I was a bit nervous about her fantasy books. It's been my experience that generally a good SF author doesn't do fantasy well, and vice-versa, but then Bujold's strength has always been her characters, and a good novel of any genre (or no genre at all) needs those. But who wants to read Miles-in-some-vaguely-medieval-land? But maybe she can write more than just Miles...

Anyway, last night, wanting something to read with my dinner (at Pho Duy... if you're ever in Fort Collins, CO, check it out, it's cheap and fantastic), I dropped into the library and checked out The Curse of Chalion, and as usual, I was being an ass. Although Miles still has first claim on my reading attention, I think the land of Chalion will be chomping very strongly at the bit behind him, to mix a metaphor or twelve.

I was struck mightily by the protagonist's discovery that his sainthood (one of the nice aspects of a fantasy world is you can define a saint to your liking-- and incidentally, remove all doubt as to whom the word applies) is dependent not on action, but emptiness, of telling the gods, "Here I am, use me as you will." Cazaril says, when trying to explain sainthood to an ex-saint,

It has to do with the shape of your soul, not its worthiness. You have to make a cup of yourself, to receive that pouring out. You are a sword. You were always a sword. Like your mother and your daughter, too-- steel spines run in the women of your family. I realize now why I never saw saints, before. The world does not crash upon their wills like waves upon a rock, or part around them like the wake of a ship. Instead they are supple, and swim through the world as silently as fishes.

This is a very Daoist idea right there. And if Bujold weren't clear that gods were involved, I might let it go at that, but it strikes me that this very thing is also a very historically Christian idea as well-- Empty Bell gives several examples. One Monk of St. Benedict tells us, "Prayer unveils its own emptiness before God." If I were less lazy (see below), I'd find more quotes, but you get the idea.

More thoughts ought to come later.

(p.s., I said "Zen Christanity" rather than "Daoist Christianity" mostly because I'm lazy, and I thought it sounded better.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Steampunk Star Wars

I can't find it now, but there was a very funny blogpost about how you can invent your own genre by taking a generic noun, and adding the word "punk" to the end. Mostly, it was a complaint about how ubiquitous "steampunk" is. That said, here's a great re-imagining of Star Wars in a steampunk style:

Monday, March 26, 2007

Go cry, emo bird.

The title, of course, refers to this picture.

Apparently, there is now a breed of moth that lives on the tears of birds. Wow.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Supergirl on the Web

Because StumbleUpon rocks, I found this awesome Internet art meme from early February 2007. The discussion started with a few rants about Supergirl in her latest incarnation, and ended up with a challenge (as well as the first, and extremely worthwhile entry in what ended up being a pretty huge drawing meme). I'm a sucker for things comic-book-y (which is why I read Chris' Invincible Super Blog), so I looked through all of them to find the ones I liked the best. I present the list here, with commentary.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Blogs I like

These are blogs I follow on a regular or semi-regular basis:

* Chris' Invincible Super Blog -- because every day that you can start with a kick to the face (or, for variety, punching out a bear) is a good day. Also, because I'm a geek.

* Contrary Brin I'll never be as much of a fan of David Brin as David Brin is, but i do like to make sure I expose myself to views I don't always agree with.

* Naked Villany -- this guy writes about politics from a more or less conservative viewpoint, but has strong libertarian tendencies, which I can sympathize with. Also, he writes well.

* The Hatemonger''s Quarterly -- these guys are so completely over the top it's usually entertaining to figure out what godawful synonym they'll use for a perfectly normal word. This blog is solely responsible for the fact that I know the word "animadversion".

* The Corner at NRO. These guys are way more hardcore than I'll ever be, but most of them write fairly well, and it's a decent source of commentary.

* University Diaries -- an English professor at GWU commenting on sports in higher education, plagiarism, and mail-order degree mills. Very funny, usually spot-on even when I disagree with her, and of course, very well-written.

* Easily Distracted -- a very low-volume blog by a history prof at Swarthmore; He'll comment on everything from comic books and movies to posting a syllabus for his fall class on postcolonial sub-saharan Africa. A polymath of sorts; you never know what sort of post he'll make next.

* Andrew Sullivan's blog, of course.

* Boing Boing -- because they have their pulse on the psyche of the average geek in a way hardly anyone else manages. Very cool links, and a regular podcast that will rock your geek socks off.

* Slacktivist -- this guy is a liberal Protestant evangelical (I know, I didn't believe they existed either) who writes a weekly column on Fridays basically ripping the Left Behind books to complete and tattered shreds, both literarily and theologically. His politics and mine couldn't be more different, but I try to read his other posts as well, just to remind myself that my perspective on religion and Jesus isn't the only one, or even necessarily the best one.

* Amy Wellborn's blog. Her commenters frankly scare me at times-- I posted once about a thing my parish does during the collection, which is really lovely: Father and the deacon (if there is one, and there usually is) stand in front of the main aisle and all the children who want to walk up to them and get a hug and sometimes a blessing. The commenters went absolute batshit on me for some reason; maybe it's because they're mostly east-coast Catholics, and you guys have had a harder time than we have out West about the abuse issue, but they acted like he was a complete nutjob for doing what I think is a sweet and wonderful thing that can only help kids feel better about the Church and more open to talking to a priest about whatever. Still, Amy posts a lot of links that help me keep up on what's going on, and I think she even pointed me at your blog.

* Whispers in the Loggia-- because, well, this guy writes well, speaks well, and knows more about the Church hierarchy than most priests, and probably several bishops. Also, he's a U2 fan, so he can't be all bad.

* What Does the Prayer Really Say? Fr Z is way more hardcore than I am about a great many things, but then again, he's a priest-- it's his job. I'll say this for him-- he's definitely expanded my knowledge of what Catholicism has been and what it could be. I wasn't even remotely interested in a Latin Mass before I found his blog, and now I am looking into whether or not there's an indult parish relatively nearby.... turns out there is, but it's about 30 minutes away. Still, given that some people on Fr Z's site post about driving 2-3 hours for an indult Mass, I shouldn't complain, I guess. Fr Z also posts some absolutely gorgeous pictures of Rome and the Vatican from time to time that just blow me away and make me want to visit Italy now. :)

*, because Michael Ruhlman writes about food the way I dream about it. He's an excellent chef and food writer, and his friend Anthony Bourdain-- of Kitchen Confidential, No Reservations, and A Cook's Tour fame-- has begun posting there.

Monday, March 12, 2007

If Glen Campbell reinvented himself...

In a recent discussion about county employees, and how they got that way, I came up with the following titles for country songs about database administrators:

"You Broke Up With Me, And I Made You A Felon"
"The Ballad of the Poorly Optimized Query Engine That Could"
"She Wasn't Normal, But I Normalized Her"
"I Told the Truth, So Help Me Codd"
"SELECT wife FROM people WHERE upper(sex) = 'F' AND looks='beautiful' AND heart='kind'"

I'm sorry.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

You gotta like this guy

Fr. Z has been reading St. John Chrysostom, and came to this conclusion after reading one of his homilies:

CONCLUSIONS: If anyone tries to give you bad wine or, worse, no wine, or says anything bad about the wine you have (or don’t have) then punch him in the face right away! Moreover, make sure that Father always has very good wine at hand, so that he can give greater glory to God and have the wherewithal to serve the flock properly.

Who can argue with logic like that?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Boing Boing gets a bit silly

I love BoingBoing; they often have some interesting articles, and usually make fun of people and things I think ought to be made fun of. In particular, in this article, they mock the police in Santa Fe for blowing up two CD players that were spewing profanity in a church during Ash Wednesday, but kept the third to check for fingerprints and the like. I mean, how stupid is that-- they'd no way of knowing they picked the only one that didn't have a bomb in it, and if they knew none of them did, then why blow them up? Did they have some explosives that were too close to their use-by date? Wouldn't more evidence against the people who did this juvenile stunt be a good thing?

"Nah," thought the police, "let's just blow stuff up."

But then BB just gets downright stupid. They cite a new story about a tape dispenser found outside a railway station in Northern Ireland that was blown up:

The Army carried out a controlled explosion on the object which was declared safe. Traffic in the town was severely disrupted for several hours while the operation took place. A police spokesperson said: "As with any object that cannot readily be accounted for, we have a duty to be wary in order to ensure the safety of all in the vicinity," they added.

For some reason, BB editor Mark Frauenfelder apparently thought this was silly. I mean, really! Who would expect an unknown object left in public-- in Northern Ireland, no less-- to contain a bomb?

Who, indeed.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Nifty papercraft Link from Zelda

I found this papercraft link elsewhere, but the one I found didn't have the assembly instructions you can find here:

It's extremely cool! Here's a couple of pictures of the one I made:

Papercraft Link (front view)
Papercraft Link (side view)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Longest alphabetical word in English

Inspired by a list of 50 bogus "facts everbody should know" I found on what turned out to be a spammer's site, I decided to find the longest word in the English language where all the letters are in alphabetical order (the site claimed it was 'almost'). I whipped up a quick Ruby program:

#!/usr/bin/ruby'/usr/share/dict/words') { |f|
f.each do |word|
ordered = true

last = ''
word.split(//).each do |letter|
last = letter unless last.length
if letter > last
ordered = false
last = letter
puts word if ordered and word.length > 6

It's been a while since I wrote Ruby, so originally I had "ordered = 1" and set it to 0, instead of false, in the if statement in the middle. This is wrong, because Ruby distinguishes between the number 0 and false, unlike C and many other derived languages (Perl distinguishes between them, but allows 0 to mean false in a conditional).

Anyway, as it turns out, the answer is 'billowy', at least according to /usr/share/dict/words. In case you were curious.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

3 Types of Virgins

There are three types of virgins:

  • Virgins by choice

  • Virgins by way of poor social skills

  • People who should be in group B, but claim otherwise, for reasons of prestige

Le Grand Content