Friday, March 31, 2006

Play Chess Better

I've always been one of those "intermediate" (cough-cough) chess players. I lost interest after I won my first game against my father (who is a big chess player). I suspect he let me win to try to encourage me. It was years before I played against him again. His revenge is that my son is now exactly like me, and driving me nuts in similar ways.

Personally I prefer backgammon or Go. Still, this link contains some good principles for general play.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Learning to Weld

How to convince your wife to let you buy a welder and learn to weld:

"Go buy a welding project book and a stack of Post-It notes. Mark pages with projects that you think might appeal to her. Bemoan the household lack of hanging plant hooks, metal fences and curly steel patio furniture. Leave book somewhere not to obvious, but not hidden. Act nonchalant when queried about what it would take to build a French style wrought iron window box. Then, buy welder and BUILD GIANT ROBOT!" - Mister Jalopy

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Best Site for Learning Guitar

There are as many guitars as people in my house, including a bass & and an electric. I've been noodling around with my daughter's old text book trying to teach myself for a couple of years. Last night I stayed up late learning to play "A Horse With No Name" from Guitar Noise.

Previously, any sites I've come across have been of the cheezy Learn to Play Guitar in 30 days for $59.99 type. This one is by a serious, apparently knowledgable teacher, who's giving it away for free. He breaks it down so that it's easy & fun to play something that sounds good quickly. That's the good news. The bad news is that he's giving it away in no particular order - he seemingly writes an article about whatever (chords, technique, songwriting) and posts it. So figuring out what to read/practise first can be a bit of a pain.

My suggestion is to read some of the Beginners articles, and then choose a song you like from the Beginner Songs section and have at 'er.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Cuborama - Cubs of Olde

Every year Cathie's Cub Pack goes to "Cuborama", a weekend camp were they play games, sing at a campfire, and generally have fun. This year's theme was "Cubs of Olde", and as usual our Cub Pack walked away with most of the trophies - best costume, best gatway, etc. *Somebody* gets a bit carried away (grin). I think you can see what I mean for yourself.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Wikipedia Masterpieces

Last but not least, the Wikipedia Yorck Project, which features 10,000 high-resolution public domain masterpieces. The landscapes, I'm told, make especially nice wallpaper backgrounds without that tacky cheap calendar feeling that even the nicest photos sometimes have.

Wikipedia Photographs

If you don't care about aspect ratios, then check out the best photographs either found or created by Wikipedians. If you're into images at all, there's some fine browsing there. I've incorporated my favourites into a screen-saver.

Wikipedia Wallpaper

If you're looking for desktop wallpaper, a hassle-free source is Wikipedia. Wikipedian's are tagging their best, larger, appropriate ratio (4:3 or 5:4) photographs and collecting them together under the Featured Desktop Background category. Tres cool. Just download and voila - instant public domain photography.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bottle Rockets

I've built a couple of bottle rocket launchers out of plywood and copper pipe in my time. One of the hazards of being a Scout leader. This method using PVC pipe & "O" rings looks way cooler, and the height seems to be quite good. Check out the movie.

I wonder what would happen if I hooked the compressor up to it? Hmmmm

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I Am So Telling My Therapist About This One . . .

I remember we had this book. I remember reading it as a kid. That would explain some things.

I wonder if my brother still has it . . .

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It's Only Fun If . . .

Apparently it's only fun *if* somebody loses an eye. Maybe this whole "Make" fad is getting out of hand?


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Could I Get Away With It?

I watch this clip, and the parent part of me says "They're in so much trouble! Do you know how long it's going to take to clean that up? And what about the filters and pumps? Did you think of that? Eh, did you?".

The kid part of me says "This is neat, I wonder if I could get away with it?"

Friday, March 17, 2006

Confidence is Everything

Confidence is everything . . .

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Humility for Humanity

When I first read Richard Dawkin's "The Blind Watchmaker", he tried to give some perspective on geological time. He was trying to get past our ingrained inability to perceive how old the earth really is, and over what span of time that the forces of evolution have to work over. Time overcomes all, so to speak. Plus, we as a species haven't really been around all that long. Like, not at all.

Here's another way to think of it - if you plotted out the history of the galaxy/solar system/earth over a year, this is what it would look like this:

Jan 1 (15 bya) Big Bang
March 20 (12 bya) Galaxies form
Sept 2 (5 bya) Formation of our solar system
Sept 14 (4.5 bya) Earth formed
Oct 6 (3.6 bya) First life
Nov 14 (2 bya) Complex single cell
Nov 21 (1.7 bya) Multicelular organisms
Dec 8 (1 bya) Sexual reproduction
Dec 19 (543 mya) Cambrian explosion
Dec 26 (235 mya) Dinosaurs
Dec 30/31 First primates
Dec 31
1:00 AM (40 mya) First monkeys
11:00AM (23 mya) First Apes
9:00 PM (5-6mya) First Hominids (from whence we came)
11:22PM (0.5mya) First use of fire (Homo erectus)
11:59PM (30 000ya) Cave paintings (Homo sapiens: 40-35kya)
+35 sec. (12 000 ya) Farming
+55 sec. (2000ya) Common Era Begins
+59 sec. (500ya) Renaissance

Thank-you, Kali on CPN for this visual aide.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

To the Moon and Beyond

This is so friggin' neat. I remember being a little kid, and watching the original moon landing on a black & white TV. The memory is fuzzy, much like the picture was. Now we're going back, and it's just a practice run for Mars! Who doesn't think this is neat?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Best Headline Ever: Hell's Angels Sues Disney

I'm not sure what form my delight at reading this headline should take. Oh, never mind. It's schadenfreude.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Fire by Friction, Responsibility is Messy, Belt & Suspenders

I know that I've covered this website before, but there were three articles that I just couldn't pass up. If you're a Scout leader, you have to check it out on a regular basis.

The first article is about starting a fire using friction. I've done this once, and the thrill of being able to start a fire without matches or lighter is something that I think everybody should experience. The pdf describing the techniques used to start a fire in 7.5 seconds are advanced tips, so I've included a link to some basic techniques well.

The second article talks about how giving Scouts real responsibility is a messy but necessary proposition. Every Scout leader earns the Chief Scout Award for their Scouts (you know who you are) needs to read this. Think of it this way: when you're blowing the coals in your fire bundle (after working hard to get some sparks off your bow-drill) you can blow too hard, and put the fire out. You can not blow enough, and fail to have the flame catch. You need to blow just enough, and your fire bundle/Scout will burst into flame.

Well, hopefully not literally, if it's Scouts we're talking about.

The third article is an amusing observation that I happen to agree with - the competency of the Scouter is inversely proportional to the amount of crap they have hanging off their belt. Personally, I keep most of my crap in a backpack. Including a lighter. [grin]

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Skull Knitting Pattern

I thought this site was cool - Jennifer calls herself a domiKNITrix. Get it? A knitter with attitude, most excellent. Thanks for the skull pattern, Jennifer.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Cellphones While Driving - Why Not Just Get Drunk?

My buddy Karl over at Whitenoise posted an article about proposed legislation banning cell phones

while driving. Scott commented on the article, saying he thought it would OK, what with hands-free sets and all. My rebuttal:

"I disagree.

It's not the act of holding a cell phone that's the distraction. We've all drunk coffee, fiddled with the radio, smoke a cigarette while driving. Being able to perform more than one physical task at a time is the essence of driving.

However, talking to a passenger and talking to a person on the other end of a phone are fundementally different. I wish I could refer the CBC radio article that I heard over a year ago now, just to make sure I'm getting this right, but here goes from memory:

When you're talking to a passenger in car they're in the same environment or context as you. So as some @#$% cuts you off, you shoulder check to change lanes, or the little kid steps out on the curb, they see the same thing you do. Any breaks or pauses in our speech are in context, and the rythym of the speech pattern on both sides of the conversation (driver & passenger) are obvious and require no explaination.

Now, the human brain does a funny thing when we're on a phone: we try to stay coherent. We're not in the same context as our conversational counterpart, and breaks in our conversation due to driving conditions would make it seem as if we're being rude or drunk. Unconsciously we try to stay in context, in this case, the context of the phone call. Some of us may have had the experience of being on the cell phone & having to explain: "Sorry, some SOB just cut me off."?

So it's not a matter of coordination. It's a matter of attention. Furthermore, we're fighting an inate desire to appear coherent, which is difficult if the two ends of the conversation are in different contexts.

Some studies that I've heard (again in passing) have suggested that driving while talking on a cell phone (even hands free) is equivalent to driving with a blood alchohol level over point oh eight."

You know when the insurance companies are paying attention (i.e., there's money involved) something's up

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Rabbit Paradigm Stew

Coyote, Owl and Badger were enjoying a quiet drink at the end of another long, hot day. It was still too early to start hunting. Later, the moon would rise and there would be delicious meat running around. Owl had been staring into his glass for a while, saying nothing. The others were used to him tuning out like this. It usually meant he had something on his mind.

"Have you seen Rabbit recently?" Owl said, snapping out of his reverie. The others shook their heads. "I just wondered how he's doing. It seemed such a radical change."

"What did?" Coyote asked.

"Didn't you know?" Owl replied. "Rabbit claims to have had a paradigm shift."

Monday, March 06, 2006


I once worked as the lead on a robotics project that I'm quite proud of, especially since it's being used in Afghanistan to clear mines. Which is even more important to me now since my brother accepted a job there with the U.N.

This little 'donkey' is neat since robots replacing drivers, or even being able to carry loads were tracked or wheeled vehicles can't go, or both is a fairly substantial research effort these days. Plus, it's just neat. At first I thought it was two skinny guys strapped into some sort of frame...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Yes, It Really Does Get That Cold

This clip is interesting to me in two ways: it happens to be the place where I had my first IT job: SaskPower, Saskatchewan's energy utility. It also illustrates how cold it does get in that bit of artic plains. I remember on one occasion when the Captain of my Air Canada flight came on the intercom & announced: "There will be a delay while we get the passenger ramp unstuck from the airplane." Apparently the de-icing procedure hadn't been entirely successful.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Make Your Own Chalkbag

I don't usually promote the home-made rock-climbing equipment. Some guy was showing my his home-made belay device at the gym the other day. Ye gods & little fishes, it was made out of a couple of aluminum plates, springs, and wingnuts! I'd rather trust my life to something that was manufactured using six sigma standards, thank-you very much.

A chalk bag, however, is not a safety critical item, and might be an outlet of self-expression for some.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Fishing Woes

At my parents cabin in Manitoba, there's a perch that lives under the dock that my kids call "the laughing perch". He laughs because every time I go fishing he's still there when I'm done, well fed with worms that I've supplied. I'm OK with that, 'cause watching the out-takes from this guy's show made me laugh my ass off. I feel much better about myself as a fisherman and as a human being.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

With Stupidity the Gods Themselves Contend in Vain

Unfortunately this TV show is available only as a BitTorrent (if you don't know what that is, this blog isn't for you - there's nothing to see here, move along), but it involves one of my favourite authors, Richard Dawkins. Now Richie is a dedicated life-long athiest, hosting a show about religion on British television. See? It's delicious to start with. For example, in a conversation with Dawkins after a sermon, a pastor likens the event to a rock concert. Dawkins suggests that it was more akin to the Nuremberg rally—a comparison that the pastor appears to be too uneducated and ignorant to be offended by.

The title of this series: "The Root of All Evil?"