Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Oh Captain My Captain

Star Trek Discovery season 3 was mediocre. It was nowhere near as good as its proponents would have me believe and nowhere near as bad as the youtube commenteriat told me. It did ask an interesting question: If you were a Starfleet captain what would you say to give the go-ahead to a bold plan? There have been various iconic examples over the years. "Warp 9 Mr. Sulu", "Engage!" "Make it so".

I don't mind my entertainment breaking the fourth wall. Deadpool turning to camera and narrating is great. In Archer one of the characters "hears" the tense soundtrack and says "don't worry it's not diegetic". In discussing iconic lines for the new captain Discovery sort of damaged and spoiled the wall without daring to actually break it – it was terrible.

I discussed various possibilities that I could use in the captains chair: "Hold on to your hats", "Buckle up", "He we go!". The one that seemed to fit my personality best (proper and slightly ineffectual) was "shall we?" with a palm up hand forward gesture.

A couple of weeks later I needed a lift to the garage to drop off a broken down car. With no irony and without remembering the conversation about Star Trek I said "shall we?" to invite my friend to leave the house and unlock his car.

Richard "punch it Chewie" B

Thursday, 18 February 2021


 Last week I had my sports car MOT'd. While my car is a "luxurious" version with a cabin heater and a fan, it can't use that to demist the windscreen (because the windscreen is well in front of the rear edge of the scuttle). On the way to the MOT station it was cold and wet so I used the heated windscreen. It was partially effective but also smelled like an electrical fire. I don't know if the MOT station ran the heated screen - I don't think they need to test it, but when I drove home it was completely ineffective and the car stank of burning plastic.

I ended up fixing one of the electrical circuits straight after my car has passed its MOT. The crimp on a spade connector had developed on ohm or two of resistance and was stealing half the power (and heating effect) from the windscreen.

Richard "after the event" B

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Stop Thief!

 Last week I was accused of theft and then tax fraud. When I serviced my sports car I bought some genuine Ford parts. It was difficult because I'm not a garage, because we're in lockdown and because something went wrong with the payment. I managed to order the parts and pay over the phone and then collect them from outside the depot.

A couple of weeks later the manager of the parts supply place was chasing me relentlessly on the phone, and when I talked to him he accused me (none too politely) of having not paid for the parts. Apparently his banking system had flagged up the purchase as suspicious and he was in trouble. I found my credit card receipt and convinced him that I had actually paid and he eventually found my payment on his system. It turns out that they had only charged me for the parts and had forgotten to add on the VAT. This discovery didn't really fix anything because his accounts still didn't line up and the transaction was still suspicious. It was 100% their fault, but I eventually had to pay the colossal £5.60 discrepancy that had triggered the whole investigation. It was a waste of everyone's time.

Richard "I din do nuffin" B

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Short Squeeze

 Every other video on youtube at the moment seems to be explaining the "short squeeze" or "short covering rally" that's happening to GameStop shares.

Imagine it was last April and I didn't have any loo roll. I could have borrowed 4 rolls from one of my well provisioned friends and promised to give him back 5 rolls in May. As it happens It would have been no problem to buy him his 5 rolls in May. Now imagine someone with a better knowledge of paper goods made the same deal and borrowed 4 rolls in April to give back 5 rolls in May. He could have sold them at the height of the panic for, say, £20 and bought the 5 rolls in May for less than £2. He would keep the £18 difference. This is called short selling.

A load of big hedge funds have large short positions on GameStop. The good weirdos of reddit noticed this and all started buying stock and promising to keep hold of it. When it was time for the hedge funds to give back the stock that they'd borrowed there wasn't any for sale and the price skyrocketed.

There are two misinformed comments that I keep seeing:

Firstly – "They were shorting more than 100% of the stock. It shouldn't be allowed". Nonsense! And if you ever find out how few pound coins there are in bank vaults compared with how many pounds people think they have in their accounts you'll lose your mind. Imagine that Ace Plant Hire rent a mini-digger to Bagshot Garden Machinery for 6 months. Bagshot Garden Machinery rent the mini-digger to Charlie for a long weekend. While it's in Charlie's garden both Bagshot Garden Machinery and Ace Plant Hire are owed a mini-digger but there's only one mini-digger to pay them both back with. It's the exact same situation.

Secondly "Short selling is immoral. It shouldn't be allowed". Nonsense! It allows people with good information to force capital to move to more productive enterprises and pays them for their trouble. If a short seller is right, then they destroy the value locked up in some over-valued enterprise and their assets get redeployed to something better. It means we don't have to wait for the buggy-whip factory to slowly go bust before we can tear it down and put up a factory that makes something people actually want (like electric cars or a smug sense of self-satisfaction). We are all (on aggregate) better off as a result.

Richard "to the moon" B

Tuesday, 2 February 2021


 The human brain is a huge pattern matching machine that also modifies itself. We are adapted to learn and we find ourselves drawn to sources of new information. This means that we can find situations or stories compelling when we don't fully understand what we're experiencing. As a tiny example look at how many stories start in the middle of the action and we don't find out what's really going on until later, or how many catchy songs have difficult to understand words.

I used to drive to guitar lessons on a Saturday morning and I would listen to the radio on the way home. I used to love it if I heard the proposed answers to the "agony aunt" feature without having heard the original problem. "Go round there with a bottle of wine and say you're not sorry". The magic and the mystery disappeared as soon as the presenter reiterated the problem for the late-comers like me.

I now work from home and out of my bedroom/office window I'm watching another soap opera that I don't understand. The people who's house backs on to mine often spend a lot of time staring out of their upstairs window into their back garden. They also sometime throw a bunch of keys from the window to someone in the garden, and they enter or leave the house through the back garden. My best guess is that it's something to do with keeping isolated in lockdown and that part of the household doesn't go downstairs or use the front door, but I can't really work it out.

Richard "I can't wait for the big reveal" B

Wednesday, 20 January 2021


 I recently serviced my sports car. It uses a very particular (and somewhat historic) grade of oil: 5W30 fully synthetic ACEA grade A5/B5. It's not wildly expensive, but it's hard to find. It burns through oil quite quickly if you substitute the more modern and easy to find C3 grade. I thought that I would save future-me some money and some trouble by buying a 20l barrel of the stuff. I tried to decant 5l into an old oil can and failed. The barrel is unwieldy and quite heavy, and it's mouth is large. When I tipped it over I got one large "glug". Most of it missed the funnel, and I got so much on my jeans that it soaked through to the long underwear that I was wearing.

I went out and bough the cheapest and crappiest pump to fit in the top of the barrel, which will be amortised over the next 5 old changes. The next oil change will be easy but I haven't saved myself a penny.

Yes, I should have tried to syphon it out with a clean length of hosepipe. I didn't have anything suitable.

Richard "oily long johns" B

Monday, 11 January 2021

Port Tongs

 My port tongs are finished.

I agree that I could have done a better job on the profile of the handles, but I have no suitable power tools. It was done with a hacksaw and a bastard file. Any further improvements would require hours of filing.

The welding was done quickly and inexpensively by the wonderful Chris Millar and sons Ltd. They said that if I were happy with their work I should recommend them. I do. To help you remember the name I'll leave this here: "Chris Millar - No! - We will not let you go (let him go). Chris Millar - will not let you go (let him go)".

It's hard to test the tongs and practice because each attempt involves a bottle of port that's good enough to have a thick walled neck and a driven cork.

These two videos show my partially successful first test

Richard "Colin Furzehatt" B

Monday, 4 January 2021

Brave New World (TV series review)

 This weekend I re-read "Brave New World" for the second or third time. I had recently watched the TV adaptation and I wanted to see how they compared. I first read the book as a schoolchild and saw it as a science fictions story full off incredible inventions and a different way of life. I read it later as a kind of companion to "1984" - here's one dystopian vision of the future, here's another. This time I think the book is about society, firstly how to control or engineer it, and more importantly about being excluded from it.

I seldom complain that an author expects too much of his reader, but in this case I felt a bit out of my depth. John the savage was taught to read, but the only things he had to read were what his mother could write, her employee handbook, and the complete works of Shakespear. His dialogue borrows heavily from Shakespear quotations, but as I don't know most of them I felt I was missing out. The four words "told by an idiot" did tip me off that he was quoting, but it also made me realise how few of the quotations I was probably spotting.

The TV adaptation did a fantastic job of bringing the world to life. Lenina, the fertilizing room, New London, ubiquitous helicopter travel, everything was better visualised than in my own mind. They made some changes to the world, but I didn’t mind them. The savages were white-trash Americans rather than American Indians. The world controller was a woman. A load of racial stuff had been removed.

Unfortunately the story had been butchered. They had added a load of unnecessary action and adventure to rescuing John the savage from the reservation. They had overcomplicated the riot. Instead of the rather dry discussion about keeping society in order, failed self rule, and sending free-thinkers to islands, they have added a load of pointless and confusing artificial intelligence and simulation theory elements.

My view is that the series was ruined, but that if it was about half as long and had just followed the source material it would have been a masterpiece.

Richard "The anime got ahead of the manga" B