December 29, 2006

So, it's the holiday season, yes?

. . . well, that's my excuse for the lack of posting. That, plus the fact that traffic is waaaaaaay down anyway, so damned few of you are reading what I'd have posted anyway.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2006

A belated holiday entry

For those of you who find the seasonal festivities a bit too, um, festive, may I suggest that a visit to is in order:

Three years ago the HPLHS recorded A Very Scary Solstice — a delightful yet hideous combining of over-commercialized holiday tunes and the unspeakable horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos. However improbable, the enterprise proved popular. So, armed with more songs, more singers, and an honest-to-goodness musician (Troy Sterling Nies, composer of much of the score for The Call of Cthulhu), we set out to bring you some more holiday songs given the Lovecraftian treatment.

Both our solstice offerings provide a CD of songs and a fun annotated sing-along songbook. Both have introductions by respected Mythos authors, and both are really quite a lot of fun.

H/T to Jo'Asia, who says "And do not miss the link to A Shoggoth on the Roof".

Posted by Nicholas at 09:16 PM | Comments (1)

December 25, 2006

The true spirit of Christmas

I don't have much to say today, and most of you won't be reading blogs anyway, so I'll confine my thoughts to those wonderful people who just keep on giving, and giving, and giving. Yes, I'm talking about those great folks who set up 'bots to post spam comments and trackback links on blogs like this one. I've had a huge upsurge in such items in the last few days, so they're much on my mind.

However, in the true spirit of Christmas, I'm not wishing their authors dead and dismembered by dingo packs. I'm charitable, possibly even filled with that elusive "goodwill to all men" thing. I think having them suspended upside-down in a barrel full of fire-ants would be a suitable reward, actually.

And seasonal greetings to everyone who doesn't post spam!

Posted by Nicholas at 10:00 AM | Comments (4)

December 24, 2006

Latest OWR now online

Michael Pinkus' latest issue of the OntarioWineReview is now available at his website.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

The most important link for tonight

Dave Slater sent along the most important URL of the day, at least if you've got young 'uns: the NORAD Santa Tracker page.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2006

QotD: End of the Vikings' playoff hopes

The last glimmers of the Vikings' playoff hopes faded away Thursday night at misty Lambeau Field, where two teams tripped over each other for most of three hours before officials had no choice but to declare someone the victor.

Kevin Seifert, "Winter blunder-land", Star Tribune, 2006-12-22

Posted by Nicholas at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2006

A very Kelo Christmas

Reason's Jacob Sullum brings us the latest from the nice folks at the New London Development Corporation — the ones who used Eminent Domain provisions to take away the homes of many folks in New London, including Susette Kelo:

Has Susette Kelo "gone around the bend"? That's the diagnosis of New London Development Corporation (NLDC) board member Reid Burdick, one recipient of a very special greeting card that Kelo sent to the officials she blames for using eminent domain to drive her from her home in the name of progress. On the front of the card is a picture of the house she struggled for years to save from the economic development bulldozers, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision siding with the city — and with central planners throughout the country who are busy thinking of better uses for other people's property. Inside the card are these verses:

Here is my house that you did take
From me to you, this spell I make
Your houses, your homes
Your family, your friends
May they live in misery
That never ends.
I curse you all
May you rot in hell
To each of you
I send this spell
For the rest of your lives
I wish you ill
I send this now
By the power of will

Whole article here.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

Another quiet posting day

I'll be AFK again most of today . . . but a lot of sites seem to be staggering under the holiday load, so perhaps not many of my usual readers will even try to drop by today.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Perspective

Frederick Crews's sequel, Postmodern Pooh, is infinitely more ridiculous than his Sixties original because in the past 40 years, the literary theory establishment has almost collapsed under the weight of its own jargon. I think that if I hear the word 'discourse' again, I'll scream, although it's when I go to 'Out of Bounds: Transgressive Fiction' that I get really annoyed. It's a seminar analysing Hermione Granger-Professor Snape fan fiction. That is to say, a relationship between a teenage girl and a fortysomething man, which often, it transpires, takes the form of a rape narrative. There are 200 women in the room. And a whole lot of talk about female empowerment and gender reversals, but, frankly, if it was 200 men talking about rape narratives involving underage schoolchildren, it would be a matter for the police, and I don't think this is empowering anybody.

Carole Cadwalladr, "Harry Potter and the mystery of an academic obsession", Guardian Unlimited, 2006-08-06

Posted by Nicholas at 01:06 AM | Comments (2)

December 21, 2006

Obligatory Xmas-style post

Craig Zeni sent along a link to Pimp My Nutcracker. For those idle times during the run-up to the holiday, right? (Like anyone has spare time right now . . .)

Posted by Nicholas at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

Playing with maps

Jon sent me a link to Imperial History: a graphic illustration of how the middle east has been part of so many different empires. At this scale, it has to be pretty superficial, but as a general guide to who owned what and when, it's pretty good.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2006

Still some time left . . .

. . . to get your Santa's Visit Application Form submitted:


H/T to Roger Henry and the folks who originally created the form, of course.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)

Yesterday's dearth of postulatiousness

Yesterday was spent entirely AFK, so posting wasn't even theoretically a possibility. Sorry 'bout that, chief.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2006

How not to land your expensive plane

Some interesting photos from the recovery efforts after a wheels-up landing of a B-1B "Lancer" from the highly idiosyncratic website of the Provisional Peoples' Democratic Republic of Diego Garcia:


H/T to "John the Mc".

Posted by Nicholas at 11:08 AM | Comments (1)

Earliest drawing of Stonehenge

Helen Schultz called my attention to an article in The Guardian on the earliest known detailed sketch of Stonehenge:

They got the date wrong by some 3,000 years, but the oldest detailed drawing of Stonehenge, apparently based on first hand observation, has turned up in a 15th century manuscript.

The little sketch is a bird's eye view of the stones, and shows the great trilithons, the biggest stones in the monument, each made of two pillars capped with a third stone lintel, which stand in a horseshoe in the centre of the circle. Only three are now standing, but the drawing, found in Douai, northern France, suggests that in the 15th century four of the original five survived.

Stonehenge has always fascinated me. Elizabeth and I were there nearly ten years ago, and she managed to get a brilliant photo . . . but it was in the dim, pre-digital age, so we're unsure where the photos from that vacation happen to be at the moment . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 11:00 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Collectivism

Every form of collectivism creates its own distinct false danger out of thin air that it can then pretend to save us from. Socialism will save us from evil capitalists. Fascism will save us from evil communists — and those whose evil skin color or accent is somehow undesirable.

Environmentalism will save us from evil industrialists — or from our evil selves, if absolutely needful, whether we want to be saved or not.

It will also keep the sky from falling.

None of this is new, of course. It all goes back to the same scam ancient religions used: the gods are angry! Only a coterie of well-fed (well-dressed, well-housed, and especially, well-laid) priests can save you! It's a simple evolutionary fact, taken advantage of, even by those who profess not to believe in evolution: to any set of genes that wishes to beget more genes like it, fear trumps joy every single time.

Leave joy — and all the good drugs — to the priests.

L. Neil Smith, "Back to Basics: Part Four", Libertarian Enterprise, 2006-12-17

Posted by Nicholas at 12:36 AM | Comments (1)

December 17, 2006

A French "crotch rocket"

Craig Zeni sent along a URL which might interest the Armorer or others with odd tastes in things military: a post-WW2 French military vehicle.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:08 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Subsidized Art

I oppose arts subsidies not only because arts subsidies are thieving from people who do not want art thank you very much, although it is that of course. I also oppose arts subsidies because I really like art and I think arts subsidies damage art, by separating artists from audiences and by separating nob audiences from yob audiences, the aristocracy from the groundlings. With arts subsidies, you get High Art in one tent — precious, clever, obscure, self-regarding and pretentious, and expensive; and Low Art, brain-dead trash, in the other bigger tent. Without arts subsidies, they all go into the same tent and you get, well: Shakespeare basically. Shakespeare, nineteenth century classical music, the great nineteenth century novelists, twentieth century cinema (before that too got to subsidised into Posh and Trash), twentieth century pop music, all that is artistically vibrant, fun and profound.

Brian Micklethwait, "An artistic argument for the Olympic Games", Samizdata, 2006-12-15

Posted by Nicholas at 12:07 AM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2006

QotD: Social Status

Status seems to me under-examined as a biological (as contrasted with a social) motive. It's necessarily a group thing; no one has status as a lone individual, as it is created relative to the group in which the individual is embedded. But of course, humans evolved in small social groups. Lack of status can really kill one, in any crunch situation. (Lifeboats, starving villages, the hunt, etc. See Lord of the Flies.) So humans have a biological need for enough status to obtain whatever their personal threshold may be to feel safe. There are a million ways to satisfy status needs, just as their are a million ways to prepare food to satisfy the underlying universal biological need, hunger. When a person drops below their comfort zone of status, they are thrown into a state of status emergency or panic behavior (often bad or wildly disproportionate) sometimes having little relation to any actual physical threat (see any internet flame war. And a lot of real wars.)

Lois McMaster Bujold, email to the Bujold mailing list, 2006-12-07

Posted by Nicholas at 12:43 AM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2006

LOTR, gamed

The Flea links to a brilliant little gem . . . Lord of the Rings, gamed by role-players who've never heard of the Tolkien stories.

The story itself is very funny, but even the throw-away lines at the end of the panels are worth the price of admission:

Yes, black dragons are powerful. So are level-20 fireballs, demi-gods, and huge mythic beasts. But there is no force in the game as powerful as the combined selfishness and apathy of your players.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:58 PM | Comments (0)

Today, Belgium. Tomorrow, Canada?

The main French-language TV network in Belgium announced the breakup of the country:

At around 8:20 on Wednesday evening, the main French-language network in Belgium interrupted its regular programming for breaking news. "A major crisis at governing heights," declared a well-recognized announcer on RTBF, the state-owned channel, before cutting to reporters in the field.

Belgium, according to the bulletin, was at an end. The parliament in Flemish-speaking Flanders, which along with the francophone region of Wallonia makes up this low country, had just declared independence. Shots of jubilation in Antwerp, the largest Flemish city, contrasted with a small sorrowful vigil outside the Royal Palace in Brussels. The journalist outside the palace reported that King Albert and Queen Paola had fled the country for Kinshasa, the capital of the old Belgian colony, Congo. Grainy footage showed two people boarding a plane at a military airfield in the middle of the night.

The Wall Street Journal also said "Only in Belgium is it a 'surprise' that people may take badly to the sudden disintegration of their state." Hmmm. Another parallel to the Canadian scene.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:25 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: Capitalism

A great thing about capitalism is that people pay for the consequences of their own stupidity. So staying on the topic of Russia as per my last article, I have no sympathy with Shell Oil now that they are getting shafted by the Russian state after making vast investments in that country. The word of the Russia government (even more so than most governments) is worth less than nothing. As a result, anyone who makes agreements with that government and puts big money into a place which has for years clearly been a kleptocratic sink hole is the author of their own misfortune when things inevitably go pear-shaped.

Perry de Havilland, "A great thing about capitalism is...", Samizdata, 2006-12-12

Posted by Nicholas at 12:35 AM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2006

The truth finally comes out

I'm not much of a fan of fanfic, but in this case, I'll make an exception: the real Hermione Granger from the J.K. Rowling Harry Potter series:

They all think they know me. My roommates, my classmates, my teachers. How blind can people get? I sometimes wonder. I honestly think that, with some of them, I could be caught robbing Gringott's Bank, or murdering Dumbledore, and they'd find excuses for me. Being a girl is so useful, sometimes — especially here in the wizards' subculture, which, frankly, is old-fashioned about some things.

It's so ironic that the clues have been there all along. It's just that nobody either has thought to put them together, or come to the correct conclusion. I do think that if Dumbledore knew what my real long-range plans are, I'd be Obliviated and out of Hogwarts so fast that the speed of light would look rather slow and crippled. However, luckily for me, he never has Legilimensed me, and sees me as an adjunct to my two friends. He pays a lot more attention to Harry Potter than he does to me, and that's just the way I like it.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:09 AM | Comments (1)

Inconsistent application of the rules

Liam McKenna sent me a link to a story about a school refusing to allow one of their students to use his choice of pictures in the school yearbook:

The mother of a high school senior who posed in chain mail and held a medieval sword for his yearbook picture sued after the school rejected the photo because of its "zero-tolerance" policy against weapons.

Patrick Agin, 17, belongs to the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international organization that researches and recreates medieval history. He submitted the photo in September for the Portsmouth High School yearbook.

But the school's principal refused to allow the portrait as Agin's official yearbook photo because he said it violated a policy against weapons and violence in schools, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by the Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

So, it sounds like a reasonable stand, yes? The school has a zero-tolerance policy on displays of weapons in any form. Except . . .

According to the lawsuit, principal Robert Littlefield told Farrington she could pay to put the photo in the advertising section of the book, but he would not allow it as Agin's senior portrait.

So, it's now a "zero-tolerance except when you pay extra" policy is it? It's also a policy with some built-in tailbiting: "the [school] mascot — a patriot — is depicted on school grounds and publications as carrying a weapon."

Posted by Nicholas at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The history of the net

As a futurist, I've often licked my chops over rather grim possibilities. But my lasting fondness for the dark side is a personal taste, not an analysis. I'm frequently surprised, and when I consider the biggest surprises, I'm heartened that they were mostly positive. The Internet, for instance, crawled out of a dank atomic fallout shelter to become the Mardi Gras parade of my generation. It was not a bolt of destructive lightning; it was the sun breaking through the clouds.

Everything we do has unpredicted consequences. It's good to keep in mind that some outcomes are just fabulous, dumb luck. So mark my last little act of prediction in this space: I don't have a poll or a single shred of evidence to back it up, but I believe more good things are in store, and some are bound to come from the tangled, ubiquitous, personal, and possibly unpredictable Net.

Bruce Sterling, "My Final Prediction", Wired, 2006-12

Posted by Nicholas at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2006

Talking, talking, talking

One of the things that "everyone knows" is that women talk more than men. Certainly the perception is very common, but apparently the numbers tell a different story:

Louann Brizendine's book The Female Brain, published last August, featured a number of striking quantitative assertions about sex differences in communication. The jacket blurb claimed "A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000", while the text (p. 14) gave the same numbers in the other order: "Men use about seven thousand words per day. Women use about twenty thousand." Dr. Brizendine gives a set of references in her end-notes, but none of them support those numbers. In fact, no study of any sort has ever measured any numbers at all like these, as far as I've been able to find.

What are the facts about sex and talkativeness? There's an enormous amount of individual variation, and each individual talks more or less depending on mood and context. Against this background of variation, many studies have measured how much women talk, on average, compared to how much men talk, on average. The differences that they find between men and women as groups have always been small compared to the differences among men as individuals or among women as individuals. And more often than not, these small group differences actually show men talking a bit more than women do.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Cologne

I hit Bath and Body Works, which provides the various Scent Profiles for my life, and discovered that the overpriced C. W. Bigelow line has added "Bay Rum" cologne and aftershave balm. I tried some. It's manly. It's damn manly. Makes Mr. Peepers feel like Hemingway, it does. It's a real alpha-male smell, but in the old-school sense. At some point the alpha-aroma became associated with musky bilge or pungent Hai-Karate type scents that indicated dominance — but only because the possessor obviously had no subordinates or associations who dared point out the fact that he had overclocked his smell-chip. Even those guys, however, respect the Bay Rum. It has that classic hats 'n' gats connotation. It's the kind of smell that says "I shot a Marlin with Bogart then kissed Bacall when he wasn't looking. And she liked it."

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2006-12-13

Posted by Nicholas at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2006

Turning the tables

This certainly puts a different twist on expandable tables.

H/T to Nicole for posting the URL.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:50 PM | Comments (0)

Congress honours Milton Friedman

Rick Sincere has a round up of who said what:

It was little noted — except as a passing snigger in a story syndicated by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — but the U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a resolution honoring the life and work of Milton Friedman, who died last month at the age of 94.

Introduced by Representative Cliff Stearns (R-Florida), the resolution had 55 cosponsors and passed on a voice vote on December 6. As a non-binding resolution, it was not conveyed to the Senate and will not require the President's signature.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:44 AM | Comments (0)

Funny images

A list of images you may already have seen and a few that may be new. My favourite was the suggested Microsoft ad:


H/T to Patrick Vera.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:34 AM | Comments (1)

Homeland Stupidity, Oz style

Roger Henry posted some interesting tidbits to a railway-related mailing list, in response to a comment about the difficulties some rail photographers have had lately:

Things are, sometimes, a bit more relaxed here. If someone — or something — is in a public space then it can be photographed. Likewise if it can be seen from a public space. (This is why someone can photograph the front of your house but not climb on a step ladder and look over the fence). [. . .]

Photographing trains, unless you are trespassing, is unlikely to attract any concern here. The general population, apart from those trapped in commuter hell, are barely aware there is a rail network and, with some justification, couldn't imagine why anyone would bother attacking it, or defending it.

What can be seen from the street can be surreptitiously photographed so it seems bizarre that "Authority" would waste time and resources hassling someone openly taking pictures. (I've always thought that it was a bad mistake to allow the population access to cell phones with camera facilities).

Where you will get lynched here is taking a camera/cell phone/artist's easel anywhere near a beach/playground/swimming pool. A leading photographer has found himself being detained (illegally) and generally hassled by lifeguards (lifesavers) when taking his camera to a public beach. His latest confrontation had him being questioned, for 25 minutes, by no less than four, Fascist coppers. The gormless wallopers wanted to dismantle his $8,000 Hasselblad looking for the concealed, digital, display. But, for $160 per hour, the controlling Council will issue him with a 'permit' allowing him to do what he likes on the beach.

When I emailed him (off-list) to ask his permission to quote from his original email, he sent me even more material:

The beach photography episode is lifted from the Weekend Australian for 9 December. The photographer's nane is Rex Dupain. His dad, Max Dupain, in 1937 took a pic of a bronzed lifesaver at Bondi Beach that became an iconic picture worldwide, the Melbourne incidents date back a few months.

The national security slogan here is "Be alert but not alarmed" and has a free call number for people to report "suspicious" activities. This gets some 30 to 100 calls a day! It has not been revealed if any of these calls have made the country safer.

What is slowly coming out is anecdotal evidence of the outcomes of some of these calls. Swarthy, dark haired, people attract the most suspicion. No surprise there. The ineptness of the police and internal security people in dealing with some of these calls is alarming. For example, a woman, Sophie Panapalous, was walking on a beach with her 14-year-old son. Someone called the hot line and reported that a woman with a head scarf was "acting suspiciously". She was detained by two uniformed coppers and a suit who demanded she account for her actions and what she thought she was doing wearing a Christian cross (!) and wearing a head scarf. That she had arrived by train was also suspicious. She explained that her son liked riding the trains and that she was a Greek Orthodox member. "Exactly" replied the suit "Why are you trying to hide behind a cross?" He went on that it was well known that Greeks were Moslem!?! Sigh. They tried to confiscate her cell phone and threatened her with arrest when she refused to take off her scarf. She was then ordered off the beach because "Her behavior was disorderly". (Now, if you were her son, what would your attitude be to Authority and the country in general?)

A second episode, that hit the evening TV, concerned a Lebanese, Moslem, family that was applying a concoction called "Dynamic Lawn Lifter" to their back yard (A brew that does NOT contain go-bang). An hysterical neighbour rang the "hot line" and this drew three police cars and two lots of suits. The family was berated, the Lawn Lifter confiscated along with a spare bag in the garden shed. Protestations that this was the amount required for the lawn area in question were ignored. The family had their house searched — sans search warrant — and were instructed not to put any more chemicals on their lawn or they would be arrested.

There are more. Sadly, much, much more. In no case has "Authority" apologized even though it makes them look incompetent and stupid and it is alarmingly obvious that huge resources are achieving nothing but aggravating a certain ethnic portion of the population.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:14 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2006

Creepiest image I've seen in years . . .

Radley Balko runs the risk of posting a picture that could get him arrested. He cross-posted to Hit and Run where there are lots of comments.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

Anne's Book

I was down at the [no-longer-accurately-described] World's Biggest Bookstore a few days ago, and found my friend Anne's book placed front-and-centre in the JRR Tolkien section of the store:


Okay, so it's neither the biggest nor the most brightly coloured book on the shelf, but it's there: Anne C. Petty's Tolkien in the Land of Heroes.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:59 AM | Comments (0)

Them's fightin' words!

Bob "Art Critic" Tarantino uses his bully pulpit to attack my artistic talents:

Photos are available at various locations, including over at Nicholas' (I kept saying to Kathy, "He's a hell of a guy, but he can't take a picture for the life of him". She kept saying, "But he's got a new camera". I kept saying, "No, seriously, he can't". I'm pretty sure I got the better of that argument.) and James'. Shouts to co-organizers Joey and Jason for pulling a pretty darned assorted group of bloggers together.

I am cut to the quick. I will have to have my friends call upon his friends. Of course, as the offended party, I will get the choice of weapons . . . rapiers, by preference . . .

By way of partial explanation, I always try to avoid using the flash for this sort of photography. Unfortunately, Bob spends all his spare time trying to find the darkest pub rooms in which to hold our 'stravaganza, so this means I'm ending up with dozens of "black bear in a forest on a moonless night" images.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2006

Edgy tourist trap

For a really edgy thing to do on your next vacation, you might consider being thrown into a Soviet-era prison . . . and paying for the privilege:

Soviet style hospitality: Doing time in Latvia
On Latvia's Baltic coast, one hotel is offering bed, board and round-the-clock exercise classes for next to nothing. The bad news is, the only bars are those on the windows and it's your turn to clean the loo — with a toothbrush.

H/T to for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:22 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Gender

Gender formation consists of a certain amount of biology overlain by a lot of culture. In our culture, gender differentiation goes into high gear at puberty, and consists to a large extent of a process of deletion. The individual ejects or suppresses aspects of him/her/self perceived as belonging to the other gender, and the resultant cripples are called "young men" or "young women". Maturity, to an interesting extent, consists of people reclaiming a lot of these lost aspects to become more complete persons again.

Lois McMaster Bujold, email to the LMB mailing list, 2006-12-07

Posted by Nicholas at 12:54 AM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2006

Wigwag whining

I find it hard to believe that folks got this wound up about a piece of railway history:

I'm as much of a nutbar about preserving railway history as the next person (after all, I founded a railway historical society), but this just took me aback.

H/T to "JtMc".

Posted by Nicholas at 11:14 AM | Comments (0)

Pay no attention to the bloggers behind the curtain

I just got home from a very pleasant evening, talking about everything except blogging with an erudite gathering of bloggers and friends at the Fiddler's Green pub. I did, as promised, take my camera along, but the room was even darker than the last room in which we held a blogstravagant gathering, so the photos are all pretty dark.

My apologies to all concerned, as usual:


Jason Cherniak (Cherniak on Politics) and Brian Mertens (Free Advice).


The Tarantinos (Bob Tarantino), with James Bow in the background.


James Bow (Bow. James Bow.)


Damian Brooks (Babbling Brooks and Nick Packwood (Ghost of a Flea)

More folks arrived after I'd put the camera away, including Martin Cleaver, Greg Staples and Andrew Coyne, while others had already been and gone, including the Last Amazon (with the real Last Amazon in tow), and Kathy Shaidle. There were plenty of other folks there, including Chris Taylor, but I either didn't get photos, or I didn't get names (and with my notorious memory for names, you'd do well to bet on the latter).

Posted by Nicholas at 01:13 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: Parliament

We’ve got to get over this idea that any time MPs exercise their brain cells unchaperoned it is some sort of constitutional crisis. It would be unnatural if they weren’t divided, given the real divisions that exist in the country, and nothing is served by pretending the contrary.

Andrew Coyne, "Wanted: a free vote on gay marriage",, 2006-12-06

Posted by Nicholas at 01:05 AM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2006

Absurd to the nth degree

A Utah teen is being charged with having sex with a minor (in this case, someone under the age of 14). The other involved teen is also being charged with the same crime. Each of them is accused of criminal activity, and each of them is considered a victim of criminal activity. Confusing details here.

So, in summary, a 13-year-old got pregnant from having sex with her 12-year-old boyfriend, and both are being charged with a crime which will brand them as lifelong sex offenders (and require them to be listed on sex offender registries wherever they go for the rest of their lives).

Can someone point out to me how society, the "criminals", or anyone else can possibly justify this? Yes, kids this young shouldn't be encouraged to indulge in this sort of sexual experimentation, but is this in any way proportional to the "crime"? Laws like this were supposed to be aimed at adult sexual predators, not precocious teens.

H/T to Kerry Howley.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:24 PM | Comments (0)

Off to the Blogstravaganza

If you're interested, there's a gathering of the bloggerati tonight at Fiddler's Green (check Bob Tarantino's blog here for more details). We'll be up on the second floor. I may take my camera along for more blackmail blog fodder.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

Firefly Returns! Well, sorta . . .

Wired News is reporting that Joss Whedon's Firefly will be returning in the form of a MMORPG:

Like Capt. Mal Reynolds stumbling in after a bar fight, the short-lived but much beloved sci-fi series Firefly will soon make an unexpected return, not as a TV show, but as a massively multiplayer online game.

Now that's shiny.

Multiverse, maker of a free MMO-creation platform, plans to announce Friday morning that it's struck a deal with Fox Licensing to turn the show into an MMORPG in the fashion of Star Wars Galaxies or Eve Online.

Update: The Slashdot thread is here if you're interested in more discussion of the topic.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:46 AM | Comments (0)


Our "local friendly beer elf" would like to bring your attention to a worthy beer now available at LCBO outlets.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:37 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The Nature of Government

It has been said that politicians are in the business of bribing people with their own money. That is, at their direction, government at various levels employs physical force or the threat of force — exactly like any other bandit — to take away about half of what the average individual earns, and then doles it back out in niggling bits and pieces, while extracting an enormous middleman's fee for the "service".

Unlike a decent, honest bandit, however, government does the same thing with people's freedom, employing its "monopoly of force" to suppress individual liberty, and then "generously" allowing people to get little bits of it back, in return for their compliance with its edicts.

The middleman's fee in this case is the erection of a vast and powerful police state whose Mussolinoid minions strut about in body armor, displaying — and often using — weapons illegally forbidden to everybody else, pushing people around, violating their rights, spying on them, listening to their conversations, reading their mail, and denying them the most intimate physical privacy, examining their body fluids and probing their anatomical cavities as if they were merely livestock.

L. Neil Smith, "Back to Basics, Part Two", Libertarian Enterprise, 2006-12-03

Posted by Nicholas at 12:33 AM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2006

Free vote in commons

The free vote on same-sex marriage was held today, and the majority of MPs voted against re-opening the debate:

The last major threat to same-sex marriage rights in Canada was soundly defeated in the House of Commons on Thursday, with MPs sending the message they don't want to revisit the emotional, divisive debate.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he heard the message and will respect it. "We made a promise to have a free vote on this issue, we kept that promise, and obviously the vote was decisive and obviously we'll accept the democratic result of the people's representatives," Harper said. "I don't see reopening this question in the future."

The question put to MPs was whether they wanted to see legislation drafted to reinstate the traditional definition of marriage, while respecting the existing marriages of gays and lesbians.

That Conservative motion failed 175-123.

I'm glad that issue is off the table for the mid-term future at any rate.

I really did wonder why Harper wanted a vote on this, as the population is probably even more in favour of the current situation than they were at this time last year. Perhaps he had to show support for his more traditional supporters, and a free vote in the house is sufficient for that purpose.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:15 PM | Comments (1)

BTVS, Season Eight

In comic book form. What's the main thing you can do with a comic that you couldn't do on a network TV show?
Whedon: Well, the thing we couldn't do on my network TV show — you can do a lot on a show these days, if you have money — is really go anywhere, and let the visuals complement the storytelling in a very specific way. [In comic books] you have the whole world, the whole universe, at your disposal. We really didn't have a lot of money to make Buffy. You couldn't tell.
Whedon: Well, bless you. We worked really hard to make it look like we did. But there were a few times when she'd walk into a cave, and it'd have a perfectly flat concrete floor. I'd just go, "Oh, if only this were a comic book." [Laughs] You still want to have people identify with the characters, but with a comic, you have a mandate that you have to do it a little bit bigger. Buffy's just living on a bigger scale. She's not the everyman that she was, but she's still cute and quippy. Does she get comic-book superheroine breast implants?
Whedon: She really doesn't. I've been fortunate that I've never worked with a T&A artist. I'm very specific about that. Isn't that the raison d'etre of lots of comics?
Whedon: That's part of why I stopped reading comics for a while. All the people I work with draw actual women.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:24 PM | Comments (0)

A lovely rant

Michael O'Connor Clarke lets loose a lovely little rant on a few topics that have been galling him.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:30 AM | Comments (2)

Next year's hot geek toy

For the geek that already has everything, a Personal RFID Firewall might be just the ticket:

JanMark writes: "Prof. Andrew Tanenbaum and his student Melanie Rieback (who published the RFID virus paper in March) and 3 coauthors have now published a paper on a personal RFID firewall called the RFID Guardian. This device protects its owner from hostile RFID tags and scans in his or her vicinity, while letting friendly ones through.

morgan_greywolf writes: "Oh, great. I can just imagine walking through the mall and then being bombarded by all these popups. "Would you like Macy's to be able to access your RFID tags? [Ok] [Cancel] [X] Always Allow"

Posted by Nicholas at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

Hurricane absentees explained

I was wondering, along with many others I'm sure, what might have caused the dearth of hurricanes this year, compared to the predictions before the season started. According to The Register, El Niño is the culprit:

So what is behind the drop off in activity? Is this the end of global warming? The BBC reports that the dearth of stormy weather is behind attributed to a building, but weak, El Niño event.

This influx of warm water in the Pacific is triggered by slower-than-average trade winds. Researchers think it disrupts hurricane formation because it creates strong upper wind shear. The shear shreds the top of the thunderstorm at the centre of a hurricane, causing it to lose intensity and wind strength, and to dissipate much faster.

The El Niño event is expected to last until well into 2007

Posted by Nicholas at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

Praise for Canadian military equipment

While it's rare for Canadian troops abroad to attract much in the way of media attention — even from Canadian media outlets — here is an article discussing how well the Canadian troops are doing, equipment-wise, compared to British troops:

On the other hand, yesterday, we read reports of yet another Royal Marine being killed (the 42nd British servicemen to die in Afghanistan) and one injured, but this time in what amounts to a conventional attack. The casualties arose when UK troops mounted an offensive on a Taliban-held valley, attacking the village of Garmser. Despite being elite troops, however, backed by airstrikes and artillery fire during the 10-hour battle, they were forced to withdraw after the Taliban launched a ferocious counter-attack with heavy weapons and tried to outflank the British troops.

Here, though, the Canadians — who have scored so well by using RG-31 blast protected vehicles for their patrols — are again ahead of the game. Having been fully committed to offensive operations throughout the summer, they have learnt from their experiences and introduced Leopard tanks into the equation. On the other hand, the British — with theoretically a more experienced, elite cadre of troops — are committing what is in fact light infantry to a conventional attack, without armoured support. They are perhaps forgetting that the tank, in its original inception, was an infantry support weapon.

What emerges from this is that, effectively, we need two armies — one capable of fighting an entirely conventional war and the other specifically equipped to fight insurgents in a mainly urban environment.

H/T to Johnathan Pearce at Samizdata.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:29 AM | Comments (0)

Latest OWR now online

Michael Pinkus has posted the most recent issue of OntarioWineReview.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)

Sue the bastards!

It's a common cry, when a corporation is widely seen as acting "above the law" or "exploiting the poor" or is merely seen as "too big". John Bambenek discusses the economic problem with jury awards for massive damages against corporations:

The idea that suing a company for some injustice (many imaginary and some, sadly, very real) to make them pay is false. It's a creation of trial lawyers who like collecting 40% of those big multimillion dollar settlements. The dirty little secret is that society pays an increased amount for products to sustain that system. No matter what you think about a hack artist doctor or a negligent fast-food restaurant owner, they never pay for these lawsuits, society does.

You get as much as you put up with as a consumer. If you want businesses to behave morally, consumers need to put that into their economics decisions. Until they do, businesses will continue to minimize costs and maximize profits.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Trusting the media

[. . .] the consistency with which elite media outlets obviously fuck up news stories which I a) know something a lot about and b) are largely verifiable through relatively easy means doesn't make me very confident about their reporting on the stuff that I don't know anything about and therefore can't easily check.

Atrios, "Wanker of the Day", Eschaton, 2006-12-03

Posted by Nicholas at 12:44 AM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2006

QotD: Environmental Panic

Every dogma has its day, and we've lived long enough to see more than one "consensus" blown apart within a few years of "everyone knowing" it was true. In recent decades environmentalists have been wrong about almost every other apocalyptic claim they've made: global famine, overpopulation, natural resource exhaustion, the evils of pesticides, global cooling, and so on. Perhaps it's useful to have a few folks outside the "consensus" asking questions before we commit several trillion dollars to any problem.

"Global Warming Gag Order Senators to Exxon: Shut up, and pay up" The Wall Street Journal, 2006-12-04

Posted by Nicholas at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2006

QotD: Wine tasting

I dropped into the bottle shop to see what they were selling; a nice young lady was handing out samples of two reds, one of which I'm regretting at this very moment. Starts sweet and ends dry, and while it's suitable, the bouquet might be described as Mummy's Underwear. It was better than the South African brand proffered; I swear you can taste the burning tires. It had a toady top note and finished not just with one note but a dozen, all taken from a 12-tone row by Schoenberg. Sometimes I think they pair a craptacular wine with an average one so you'll congratulate yourself for buying the better one.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2006-12-04

Posted by Nicholas at 12:55 AM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2006

A bright new day . . . for unions?

There was a brilliant article in The Economist last month, which I meant to link to earlier . . . except that I lost track of that issue of the magazine. Until now. It's a brief look at Sara Horowitz's attempt to make the union movement relevant to freelance workers. This is something I've been arguing in favour of for years (and not just because my employment pattern closely resembled freelancing).

If unions fail to innovate to meet the needs of workers in non-traditional industries, they're doomed to shrink until they only represent government employees. The key is to represent the individual worker not the job: make union benefits portable from job to job and you'll have a major drawing card for employees who find it too expensive to purchase benefits individually or who work for employers who provide too skimpy a set of benefits.

Of course, that requires a major re-alignment of existing unions from their long-standing belief that individuals really don't matter, only the jobs themselves matter. I'm afraid it'll be a long time before that shift can happen.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

Jim Souhan rakes 'the Brads' over the coals

After yesterday's mistake-fest (proving that it is possible to lose a game when the opposing quarterback manages a 1.3 passer rating), Jim Souhan asks some pointed questions:

NFL coaches and quarterbacks, we hear, receive too much credit after victories and too much blame after losses.

Baloney. As the Vikings' season froze like a tongue to a flagpole on Sunday at frigid Soldier Field, the culprits were the Bear Market Brads.

Because Brad Johnson threw away the biggest game of the year, Brad Childress is facing the most important decision of his career.

Johnson tossed four interceptions in the Vikings' 23-13 loss to Chicago, leaving Childress with no choice but to send in Brooks Bollinger.

[. . .]

This week, Childress will pick between the flailing Johnson, the ailing Bollinger (who injured his left shoulder) and the unveiling of Jackson.

The Chiller had better choose wisely, or he'll turn an already-seething locker room into the set of "Mutiny on the Bounty."

Apparently, it wasn't all bad: the running game was excellent, gaining 192 yards on 35 carries (although Chester Taylor was injured late). The Vikings owned the game clock, keeping the ball for over 39 minutes. The defence had three interceptions (among five turnovers by the Bears). Chicago managed just over 100 yards of total offence. But the Bears still won by 10 points.

The fans were already against Brad Johnson after the last few losses, but they'll be throwing beer cups and towels at him if he's still starting the next home game. Bollinger was injured in this game, and may not be fit for next week's game against Detroit. Tarvaris Jackson has admitted that he doesn't really feel ready to start yet. It almost makes me suspect that there'll be a surprise QB signing this week . . . after all, Johnson's 10.3 passer rating wouldn't frighten too many teams.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:28 PM | Comments (0)

The Minority Report world comes closer

Another link from Slashdot: software to predict how likely a person is to commit murder. Because, of course, you can't let the actual facts stand in the way of a good computer-based prediction:

"The tool works by plugging 30 to 40 variables into a computerized checklist, which in turn produces a score associated with future lethality. 'You can imagine the indicators that might incline someone toward violence: youth; having committed a serious crime at an early age; being a man rather than a woman, and so on. Each, by itself, probably isn't going to make a person pull the trigger. But put them all together and you've got a perfect storm of forces for violence,' Berk said. Asked which, if any, indicators stood out as reliable predicators of homicide, Berk pointed to one in particular: youthful exposure to violence."

That last item will be like catnip for law enforcement types, because those four final words will almost instantly bond with the concept of "violent computer games". There you have it, a perfect reason to lock up anyone you don't like . . . and you've got a computer prediction to back up your prejudices. Not to imply that law enforcement officials would misuse such a tool — perish the thought — just that it's inevitable a possibility.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

A more valuable service

From Slashdot, a link to a community-based book recommendation scheme that actually might be useful. That's because, rather than looking for strong positive correlations, it's doing the reverse: finding books that you shouldn't bother reading:

Unsuggester takes "people who like this also like that" and turns it on its head. It analyzes the seven million books LibraryThing members have recorded as owned or read, and comes back with books least likely to share a library with the book you suggest. The unsuggestions come from LibraryThing data, not from Amazon.

Update: LibraryThing appears to be "slashdotted" at the moment. If you're finding access slow, try again later today or tomorrow . . . the /. locust-crowd should have moved on to new pastures by then.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Every FPS you've ever played

You've seen stuff like this a bazillion times before. Gears of War is yet another first-person shooter in which you blunder through the post-apocalyptic boneyard of civilization, repetitively slaughtering a bunch of hulking, gibbering aliens. Creepy things lurk in the dark; fresh ammo packs are scattered improbably in open sight; and as the guts paint the hallways red, your teammates curse like a bunch of Tarantino wannabes. Name every single war-weary cliché of the run-and-gun genre, and Gears of War dutifully ticks it off.

And the game really is awesome. Indeed, it is staggeringly, derangedly so. I popped Gears of War into my Xbox 360 and sat in a cybernetic haze for three straight hours, emerging with my stomach in fist-size knots, so emotionally and cognitively depleted that I had to consult the instructions on the side of the box before I was able to cook a bag of microwave popcorn -- which, come to think of it, was my only meal for the rest of the evening because I had to go back and play until I collapsed.

Clive Thompson, "Why Gears of War Rocks", Wired News, 2006-12-04

Posted by Nicholas at 10:09 AM | Comments (0)

Not iPod . . . iBrain!

The horror . . . the horror!

Posted by Nicholas at 12:53 AM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2006

Unscheduled downtime

Sorry for the unexpected lack of postings yesterday. We had some lengthy power outages here in Brooklin, and I had a badminton tournament all day. Between the two, I never even got the computer turned on until this morning.

The tournament started off badly: I overslept. I woke up almost exactly at the time I'd planned to leave. After a very fast shower, some coffee, and a tiny breakfast, I got on the road 20 minutes late. I had to stop enroute to pick up some Gatorade and light snack food for my lunch, so I arrived just in time to sign in and get changed for my first game.

This tournament involved playing four games against another team every hour (men's doubles, two mixed doubles, and a women's doubles). One of our female players hadn't showed up, so we had to borrow a player from another team for the women's doubles game and one of the mixed games. Chris and I struggled to get something working in the first set: we lost the men's doubles game 15-8, but Judy and I managed to win our mixed game 15-13.

My play improved as the morning wore on, so that at lunch, I was very happy with my record of 4 wins and 2 losses.

For the afternoon, the teams were re-selected, and I ended up (after some administrative confusion) playing with Jim and Heather, both of whom are excellent players. At the end of the tournament, I had my share of 10 wins and 2 losses. And I was totally exhausted. I was barely able to drive home and drag myself into the house to collapse.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:29 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Resource scarcity

We make ourselves better off, then, not by increasing the amount of resources on planet earth — that is, of course, fixed — but by rearranging resources we already have available so that they provide us with more of what we want. This process of improvement has been going on ever since the first members of our species walked the earth. We have moved from heavy earthenware pots to ultrathin plastics and lightweight aluminum cans. To cook our food we have shifted from wood-intensive campfires to clean, efficient natural gas. By using constantly improving recipes, humanity has avoided the Malthusian trap while at the same time making the world safer and more comfortable for an ever larger portion of the world’s population.

In fact, increasing, rather than diminishing, returns characterize many economic activities. For example, it may cost $150 million to develop the first vial of a new vaccine to prevent Lyme disease. Yet every vial after that is essentially free. The same is true for computer programs: it may cost Microsoft $500 million for the first copy of Windows 98, but each subsequent copy is merely the cost of the disk on which it is stored. Or in the case of telecommunications, laying a fiber optic network may cost billions of dollars, but once operational it can transmit millions of messages at virtually no added cost. And the low costs of each of these inventions make it possible for the people who buy them to be even more productive in their own activities — by avoiding illness, expediting word processing, and drastically increasing the tempo of information exchanges.

What modern Malthusians who fret about the depletion of resources miss is that it is not oil that people want; they want to cool and heat their homes. It is not copper telephone lines that people want; they want to communicate quickly and easily with friends, family and businesses. They do not want paper; they want a convenient and cheap way to store written information. In short, what is important is not the physical resource but the function to be performed; and for that, ideas are the crucial input.

Ronald Bailey, "The Law of Increasing Returns", Cato Institute, 2000-03-18

Posted by Nicholas at 10:03 AM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2006

Editing Wikipedia

I finally got around to making a couple of changes to the Wikipedia page on the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway. I just added a few paragraphs to the history section, but I think I'll add more information as I get a chance.

I'm already concerned that editing Wikipedia articles may be as addictive as blogging . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 11:10 AM | Comments (1)

Imagine having a neighbour like this

H/T to Tom Vinson for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:07 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: The English

According to the English model [. . .], the public self must be unassuming. No affectation, no self aggrandizement, no kinetic bid for attention. The public self should be modulated, burnished, restrained. In the language of Guest's most repeated screen appearance (This is Spinal Tap), one may not turn the social self up to 11. In fact, you shouldn't go much past 3. 4, tops. No, strike that. Not 4. 3.

The English are really Japanese. Any departure from due form puts the credibility of the social performance in jeopardy and the capital of the social actor at risk. They are an exacting, unforgiving audience. Anyone who dares claim too much or give too little will be found out and made to pay. So intensive is this scrutiny that many English people live under deep cover. Their social interests are almost always better served by concealment than revelation.

Grant McCracken, "Christopher Guest and the English Transformational Modality", This Blog Sits at the, 2006-11-14

Posted by Nicholas at 12:44 AM | Comments (0)

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