Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Funeral Pyre

 This week I went for Sunday lunch in a horror film. My mum is confused and forgetful, so she'll do strange things and then forgot that she's done them. Rectifying these situations generally involves nothing more than carefully searching for or replacing lost objects or repairing the things that she's broken. On Sunday it was much weirder and nastier.

The back of her car contained thousands of flies and a soggy slithering heaving mass of maggots. The smell was indescribable and I was only just able to keep control of my stomach and lungs. I shovelled the whole sorry mess into a bonfire, boot carpet included, and burned it. Instead of eating lunch I went home, stripped naked in front of the washing machine and put everything I had been wearing through a hot wash. I had a shower and washed my hands in aftershave. I still don't think I'm free of the smell of it, and my appetite has been severely damaged.

It turns out that my mum had picked up a squashed hedgehog from the road (as though it were litter) and had left it in the back of the car during a heat wave.

Richard "ewww" B

Monday, 10 August 2020

Chairman of the Bored

 My life is boring enough at the best of times, but in the pandemic, pretty much nothing happens to me. This last couple of weeks for instance I have mainly been sitting in front of Netflix. I have binged through all 22+ hours of "Avatar the Last Airbender" and it is quite brilliant!

It should be terrible: It was made for children. It was made by Nickelodeon (Americans) but in the style of Japanese anime, and there's a lot of it.

The only criticisms that I can level at it are that some of it is a bit slow, and that some of the dialog and storytelling is a little bit obvious. However that only bothered me when I was so involved in it that I forgot it was written for twelve year olds. The magical world that it conjurs up is as big, as detailed and as rich as The Lord of the Rings. The story is set at the end of a hundred years war, but there are thousands of years of history just below the surface.

Even though it's for children it deals with very adult topics in a mature way. It deals with war, genocide, loss, corruption, honour, divided loyalties, personal growth and redemption. There's never a drop of blood shown or a swear word spoken, but the impact and gravity of the situations is gripping. In amongst all this there is simple clean humour. "She's got a giant mole" "What are you talking about? Her skin is flawless" "No she rides a giant mole monster".

In the same way that The Lord of the Rings or The Sandman is long enough that radical character development can seem natural and moving, two of the main characters are massively transformed throughout the story in the most compelling ways. What starts out as a one dimensional textbook villain becomes the most entertaining and admirable character in the whole thing.

Richard "find a child and go and watch it" B

Monday, 27 July 2020

Political Shield

I spend a good bit of time at the weekend drawing geometrical surfaces trying to better understand political opinions.

I recently watched a fascinating youtube video, I can't remember its name but it was on the channel "Short Fat Otaku". It was about how you define political opinions. I think it's clear by now that the traditional Left->Right scale is missing a lot of detail. For example I see the historical German National Socialists as extremely left wing (massive state control and  provision) whereas others see them as right wing because of their strict racial standards.

The Political Compass Test has added another axis, authoritarianism, and while it gives a better picture it  still seems myopic.

SFO presented a triangle, the corners of which represent Freedom, Equality and Tradition. People who's highest ideal is freedom are in the Freedom corner. People who value equality above all else (whether it's sexual equality, financial equality, racial equality, ...) are in the Equality corner. People who prize some traditional view of governance (Traditional Britishness, Christian Morals, White Ethnostate, One nation under an ayatollah, ...) are in the Tradition corner.

This triangle seems useful because it does help us to understand some of the division and confusion that we see. The people in the freedom corner can barely differentiate between the Communists and the Nazis because they're both anti-freedom, authoritarian, and happy to silence political dissent. The equality advocates see the Freedom corner and the Tradition corner as the same because they both stand in the way of the radical new structure that they wish to introduce. Both the classical liberals and the traditionalists rail against the overthrow of whatever structure the equality brigade are trying to tear down (patriarchy, capitalism, western democracy, meritocracy). From the Traditionalist corner, the freedom people and the equality people look indistinguishable.

This is all well and good, and I think it's a useful lense through which to examine one's own prejudices and the opinions of others. However, it upsets my sense of dimensional analysis. You can't represent three axes on a flat triangle.

My first assumption was that the three axes are orthogonal to each other. That gives us a three dimensional space in which you can plot political opinions. That doesn't help, there's a point where you care about nothing, and a point where you care about all three things to the fullest extent. Neither really makes sense.

My second assumption is that you have to care "so much" and all you can do is point the direction in which you care. In other words there is an arrow, starting at the origin, which is 1 unit long (I give exactly 1 shit) and a description of your political ideology is the direction of that arrow.

The rest of my weekend was spent worrying about what that surface looked like, and where the graduations fall on it. (The lines of iso-sentiment if you will.)

Here's a rough sketch of the surface that piqued my interest.

This is a moderately accurate projection of it, to show how the lines and regions intersect.

When my father described the Mercator projection to me, I was told to imagine that we covered the globe with pasty, slit it down the Pacific, and then rolled it out.

This is the best I can do as a flat projection of the surface. It is symmetrical and the areas aren't molested too badly, but the angles are all shot.

Richard "projection" B

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Gas Bill

My gas/electricity supplier is incompetent. The wrote to me asking for my meter readings, and as usual I emailed them straight back. They use their general customer services email address for meter readings, but they have a robot that reads the emails and extracts the meter readings. As normal I got back an email with the data that they had extracted, and a URL to visit to indicate that I was happy to proceed with those readings. The URL didn't work. In fact there was no page on the end of it. I did notice that they seem to be in the process of migrating to a different domain so I emailed them to tell them that their online service for confirming meter readings was broken.

Of course my email contained the trigger words "meter" and "reading" so the robot replied thanking me for my meter readings.

After several attempts I managed to send an email to their customer services to report a problem with their "m3t3r r34d1ng" service without triggering the robot to think that I was supplying meter readings.

While I was having this boring conversation with the robot, I was also trying to find a URL that would confirm my meter readings. I did have the GUID and a couple of other URL components to work with, and I know their old and their new domain. I didn't get it to work, but what I found out was horrifying. It's a Wordpress site, and there's a missing include in the user authentication section.

Richard "time to switch" B

Monday, 20 July 2020

Mallory Park

Last week I went on my first track day of the year at Mallory Park. Safety briefings have moved online so there is an enormous amount of hanging around to be done between signing on and driving the sighting laps. As is traditional I saw an obscure single seater that went on track once, spent half a day in the paddock being peered at, and had been trailered away by lunch. My favourite car was a race prepared frogeye Sprite with a tiny "toad of toad hall" aeroscreen. The weather forecast said there was going to be heavy showers so I went with wet tyres that I wanted to try out. It stayed dry all day, I think I was the only person in the paddock hoping for rain.

On the way home I ran out of petrol. The faultfinding of that particular problem was very annoying because even when the recovery service arrived the gauge was still reading "top of the red". Worse, the gauge is reading the same now that there’s half a tank of fuel in there.

Richard "fuel level sender" B

Monday, 6 July 2020


Last week I set the questions for the canteen quiz. Here they are in case you want to play along at home, or you want to use them.

1.1 At traffic lights, what colour comes after you see red and amber together?
1.2 In what country is the Ganges river?
1.3 What form did the Greek god Zues take when he seduced Leda?
1.4 How many claws on an ordinary domestic cat?
1.5 Where are the TT motorcyle races held?

(Name the book, play, film, poem, series, etc. that these well known quotes come from)
2.1 "To be or not to be?"
2.2 "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."
2.3 "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."
2.4 "The best laid schemes of mice and men" (not the Steinbeck book. Will accept author or first line)
2.5 "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

(Name the song that these lines come from)
3.1 "Just a small town girl Livin' in a lonely world. She took the midnight train goin' anywhere"
3.2 "There ain't no love, no Montagues or Capulets just banging tunes and DJ sets"
3.3 "All the lonely people where do they all come from? All the lonely people where do they all belong?"
3.4 "Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth"
3.5 "There must be some kind of way outta here said the joker to the thief. There's too much confusion I can't get no relief"

(Give the common name for these fancy sounding dishes)
4.1 A traditional Cornish medley of steak and root vegetables, served en croute.
4.2 Slow cooked harricots in a rich tomato jus, served over pain grillé.
4.3 Extra fine sliced potatoes fried golden and presented in a diaphanous pocket.
4.4 A water-infusion of top-leaf camellia clouded with cows milk.
4.5 A layered snack of bread, Saddleback rashers, hearts of romain and love-apple.

(Name the book, play, film, poem, series, etc. that feature these buildings or establishments)
5.1 Nakatomi Plaza
5.2 Mos Eisley Cantina
5.3 Los Pollos Hermanos
5.4 Lassiters Complex
5.5 221b Baker Street

(Translate from American English to British English)
6.1 Elevator
6.2 Jelly
6.3 Median Strip
6.4 Suspenders
6.5 Hard Cider

(Identify what is being measured or graded)
7.1 Bogey, Par, Birdie, Eagle.
7.2 Toy, Miniature, Standard.
7.3 Smooth, Second Cut, Bastard.
7.4 Baby, Drawing Room, Full Size, Concert.
7.5 Score, Pony, Ton, Monkey, Grand.

8.1 What key do you press to pay your respects?
8.2 What do you do if someone is having a stronk?
8.3 Complete this phrase: "All your base ___ ______ __ __"
8.4 What film does this classic line of dialogue come from: "Oh hi Mark"
8.5 What's the name of an angry entitled woman who's unhappy with the service and wants to speak to the manager?

(You have 4 minutes to collect as many of these items as you can)
9.1 A hat.
9.2 A bucket.
9.3 Any bit of sports equipment with which you strike a ball.
9.4 Something older than you are.
9.5 Empty cardboard box.

10.1 How do you make a Venetian blind?
10.2 What do Blackpool donkeys get for lunch?
10.3 Why don't polar bears eat penguins?
10.4 What did the dyslexic pimp do?
10.5 What's Brown and Sticky?