Wonderful Toys

E is mad, in the most wonderful possible way: she just bought me a veritable swath of new toys because she decided I need more presents. Who am I to argue the point? 🙂

I have always wanted one of the ThinkGeek highly collimated green laser pointers. Now I have one. It will happily paint lurid green lines on trees more than a kilometer from my house. Further than that seems very likely, but I need to get up higher at night to give it a try. It is also the only laser I have ever owned of which it can be said that you can really, clearly see the beam, rather than just the surface it’s shining on.

I have long coveted the Skagen family of flat, mesh-banded watches. Now I have one on my wrist, and it’s purteh and very comfortable.

I never knew that such things existed, but I now have a beautiful silver ring with the words ‘come and get them‘ inscribed on it in ancient greek.

Thank you love!

No, we’re just partners, Thanks.

On Tuesday night E and I were asked if we were brother and sister!!!

The checkout-chick at Bunnings may have had some cause to ask this: we were engaged in that kind of vaguely adversarial humour that might well seem like the sibling thing to the unfamiliar eye.

Still. We were both greatly freaked out by the question:

“Are you two brother and sister?”

It struck me at the time that this person really needed to meet me in the company of my actual brother:

Lawler-spotting for beginners

we are fairly easy-to-spot siblings.

On a mostly unrelated note: I should add to my rave about Skullcandy by pointing out that my Skullcandy ‘buds were a gift from E, who bought them off the ‘net. I don’t know a good retailer to buy them at in Melbourne, sadly.

Broadband, we does not has it

If E and I seem to be a little quiet this week, it’s because the foolishness of Australian telecommunications has left us broadbandless while we change from ADSL on one ISP to ADSL 2+ on a different one.

The reasons for this are many, but the main one is that the incumbents have seriously gone downhill in the past six months.

The upshot is that we are relying on borrowed dial-up for the next little while.

Of course, if you can’t reach us online, we do still have phones. 🙂

Brief rave: Skullcandy

Skullcandy LogoSkullcandy rock. In particular, I want to rave about three things:

  1. Their Smokin’ Buds ear-buds are fantastic quality: they are the best head-mounted audio of any kind I have ever encountered, and I’ve tried a few.
  2. Their Smokin’ Buds ear-buds are damn cheap for what they are.
  3. Their customer service is unbelievable. On the packaging they say that if you break their products, or lose parts, they will just mail you replacements. It was only yesterday that I confirmed that they really mean that.

I figure if they don’t want money for having a real human being email me back in less than an hour and post me a new set of gels, the least I can do is expound their virtues on my blog.

This has been your non-sponsored rave for the day. 🙂

Prettified, Unified, Gnarlified

Those who check here with any regularity will notice that things have changed lately:

  • First, I updated WordPress MU to the latest version, thereby bringing a number of WordPress 2.0-isms into availability.
  • This broke about 2/3 of my existing themes for some reason, including the ‘grass roots‘ one I was using, so I failed back to the default WPMU theme for a few weeks.
  • As a result, my duplicator script, which makes this blog page appear in similar form on my homepage, broke.
  • I was already cranky about the ugliness of the code underlying my old homepage, so I duplicated all the sub-pages off it here, in WordPress, and put up a ‘nobody home!’ message on the old page.
  • I wasn’t totally happy with the default theme either, so I downloaded K2, and went a little bit mad playing with the infinite variety of customizable gadgets.

Now, as you can see, this page looks far more like a page where someone actually lives. 🙂

Next, I intend to diddle Apache into displaying the same page at /~thorin/ and /blog/thorin/ (just for me, although if other people turn out to want it, it can be copied).
O ye who have blogs here (or want a blog here), be advised that if you want the full scope of K2 magic for your own blog, ask me. It is not 100% automatic, owing to the nature of WPMU.

I do wibble, quietly to myself about the sheer colossal mass of code that now underlies this page, but hey, it doesn’t seem to have hurt performance. YMMV. Please complain if it’s bad for you…

Transhuman medicine

Follow-on from yesterday’s post led me to read today, at lunch-time, about Democratic Transhumanism, a disturbing name for a political label which I suspect I might actually like to adopt. The idea that we can just plain outsmart our own limitations is one very dear to me, one that seems self-evident to me from the shape of human technological history.

With this roiling about in my head, I take an end-of-day glance at ye-olde bucket-O-morons, Slashdot, and find a link to this article.

DNA vaccine could help MS sufferers: study

The cause (of Multiple Sclerosis) is unknown, but evidence suggests the immune system of MS patients attacks the myelin that covers and protects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.”

“(The Vaccine) incorporates the DNA sequence of myelin basic protein into cells, which then start to make the protein.

Say what?!? If I understand this correctly, there’s a disease where sub-part X of body-part Y breaks down and goes away… so we engineer a vaccine which introduces DNA into body-part Y which enables it to re-grow sub-part X. HOLY FARK!

Needless to say, this strikes me as pretty frickin’ “transhuman”.

Environmentalism, Space and The Spin-Doctor

I generally avoid environmentalism as an issue on my blog because I fear the power of fatigue and denial: Everyone in the world who hasn’t been living in a skinner box for the past thirty to sixty years is suffering from some kind of fatigue and living in some level of denial about sustainability, pollution, global warming and the mind-buggeringly vast array of potential issues that flock with them. You think you’re not fatigued by them or in denial about them? Convince me that your whole life really is zero-impact then, go on. Convince me that you still stop and read every piece of news you can get your hands on regarding global warming (to pick one single issue) and the political machinations that go with it. Then, having done that, tell me how your plans take into account the actions of the rest of humanity in order to guarantee a safe and happy future for yourself.

The fatigue and denial are natural things. It makes me a little sad to see people like Jeremy Clarkson becoming actively hostile in their denial, but it doesn’t surprise me, and I don’t hold it against him: This kind of reaction is inevitable.

I would usually like to think of myself as an environmentalist (to some extent) and a communist (likewise), but readers will note that this blog has a marked lack of references to The Revolution or The People (except in jest). This is because, while I think Communism is an archetype of the ideal government, I fail to see:

  • A practical way to get there from here, right now.
  • A complete or consistent model for how it’s going to be made practical.
  • A sufficiently large or urgent demand for radical change.

Instead, I have leanings: I like to encourage communal organizations and economic structures where they crop up. I am always careful to vote with socialist leanings in mind. I try to foster an interest in others in concepts like how industrialization makes the agrarian work-ethic increasingly inappropriate. I frequently tout Iain M Banks’ “Culture” novels (or Ursula Le Guin) to friends. 🙂 I avoid even mentioning the strong left-wing papers or classic Communist writers for the same reason that sane modern Chrisitians don’t like to talk about Jack Chick or carry a bible for the purpose of quoting it. Why is it, do you think, that in a world where open-source software is a vast and growing industry, so fe people know or care about Richard Stallman and the FSF, who arguably started it all? People get tired. People especially get tired of being told that their hard work, their glories, their achievements and their luxuries, generally earned in good faith, are wrong and bad, and must be given up or undone. In fact, I think people get tired of being told that anything is bad and wrong in a generalised or dogmatic kind of way.

Wow! Long rant. Apologies for the fatigue, folks. 🙂

My point in all of this is that environmentalism, arguably one of the most important causes in human history, has really bad spin. I never really understood what spin was until I met my first expectation manager

Businesses that Sell something usually aim to achieve Customer Satisfaction. i.e. ensuring that the Quality of the Product meets The Customer’s Expectations. All the obvious parts (the parts any business wants us, the public to see) of said business are about ensuring the Quality of the Product. You know; making sure that the product lives up to expectations. The secret part is that this is a two-way process. Roles like Marketing and Sales are tinged with it, but only the role of Expectation Manager is really frank and honest about this part.

An Expectation Manager is someone who ensures that the buying public’s expectations are kept on a par with what the company actually makes. This is not about selling the product as the be-all and end all, but it’s not about negativity either. It’s about finding the strengths in what you have, and elaborating on them. The customer has never felt the need for a hard-drive in their pocket before, but having their own music collection to play wherever they go, that’s cool. How did they live without it?

So, how do we spin environmentalism? Same way you spin anything.
(warning: may contain traces of sarcasm)

  1. Environmentalism is not hard. It’s easy.
    (Marketing and Engineering can worry about making this true, or making it seem true).
  2. Environmentalism is not boring, sad, or angry. It’s fun.
    (State-of-mind stuff. Sell the whole package right, and it will be true).
  3. Environmentalism is not nerdy, fringe or elitist. It’s cool.
    (Say it loud enough, often enough and it becomes true. Brainwashing is your friend).

As long as Environmentalism takes the form of trying to punish the naughty consumers for buying stuff and using stuff, to berate the naughty companies for making a (profitable) mess, it will continue to have all the sex-appeal of a jail term. To sell it, it has to be a positive thing. It has to look easy, fun, and worthwhile. I’m not being defeatist or cynical about this: maybe mankind does possess enough wit to react intelligently to a threat like global warming, maybe it doesn’t. The odds are that such a reaction will be late, half-hearted, and involve euqal parts bitterness and suffering. For certain though, humanity knows how to follow trends and learn new tricks. We know how to rise to technical challenges, to manage impossibly expensive things like the space race. We know how to suddenly start using radios… and telephones… and TVs… and mobile phones… and eBay… and iPhones… and… and…

Environmentalism (maybe under an assumed name, the old one has cooties) just needs to be the next killer product, or products. How? That’s engineering’s problem. 🙂

For example, we could be Colonizing Planet Earth.

Oooh. I ranted. Sawry…


I seem to specialise in blogging from odd places under odd circumstances…

Today I’m in hospital with (probably) an incarcerated hernia

This is, I am assured, nothing to be worried about, but I notice I’m not being sent home or anything. There is very little to do here, unless one brings it; the TV is diminished from its traditional brain-sucking power by the absence of cable. They screen the occasional DVD, but have put Stranger than fiction (which I quite anted to see) at the same time I’m scheduled for surgery. The food here (Valley Private) is so bad that I am frankly looking forward to being put back on the drip and told to fast again. E (who should be canonized!) brought me fast food, Red Meat comics and my laptop, so all is well.

That’s all really. I have little to say, because I have little to do. In the absence of stimulus I become a potato. Ho hum.