Kiswahili, Msingi Wa Kusema... : Hinnebusch, Mirza & Stein

02/22/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Books, Languages

Link: http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN//0761809724/thecerealkill-20

I'm getting prepared to go to Africa this year. True to my nature, I've got books on Swahili, the major language of East Africa, on my reading list in preparation.

I first ran across the Swahili language in a used book called "Jifunze Kiingereza", or "Learning English" (for Swahili speakers). It's amazing what you can get out of a foreign English-learning book, though you certainly can't get everything.

I have a bit of a soft spot for Swahili. It sounds quintessentially "African" with phrases like "Hujambo, bwana" (Hello, mister/guy/sir), "Simba!" (lion) and "Mimi ni mwanafunzi" (I am a student). There are some rather odd spots to the grammar, but it's by and large pretty regular, and it's mostly pronounceable by the average North American Joe, unlike things like Russian, Arabic and Chinese (assuming those are not your native languages :) )

This is a pretty good textbook on Swahili.

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The 40-Year Old Virgin

02/20/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Movies

I didn't understand what all the kafuffle was about until I saw the movie. Steve Carrell does an absolutely outstanding job as the main character. The main character, Andy, is charming, obviously a little bit naive, but is not a flat caricature of a geek. He doesn't always stay in when invited out, or not "get" the jokes or sarcasm flung his way. Watch for how he backs up his co-worker on the discovered date card thing, and how he handles the daughter later on. You'll enjoy it :)

 

War of the Worlds (The Modern Remake)

02/20/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Movies

It's got Tom Cruise in it, and follows him, but he doesn't take over the show. This is a Spielberg spectacular, and if you're looking for an utterly horrifying, as-realistic-looking-as-you-can-get version of the War of the Worlds story, this is definitely it.

I was surprised at the way the movie is set up. It's all very "eyewitnessy" - as an audience member you don't get inside information about what's going on except for what the protagonist sees. That makes it all the more creepy. (It's like being in Half Life 2, except nobody's yelling "Striders", and you have no weapons at your disposal.)

The movie ends somewhat... abruptly, although not unsatisfyingly. It does leave you wishing for additional material before the ending, but it's a movie, not a miniseries.

Fun to watch if you like being creeped out, in a good way.

 

The Savage Garden : Peter D'Amato

02/19/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Books, Gardening

Link: http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0898159156/thecerealkill-20

This is a great book for fans of carnivorous plants.

I got my first interest in gardening going to the horticulture department of UBC as a little kid, and the Venus Flytrap was definitely the main thing that got me hooked.

I've tried raising them in the past. Often, Home Depot or the like would get in a little shipment of tiny Venus Flytraps, we'd take them home, and they would just slowly decay. Well, we're hoping to change all that.

First thing you learn in the book is not to use tap water, or many bottled waters. Anything with minerals in it is bad for the vast majority of these plants, since your plantings cannot possibly simulate the constantly-running waters of a bog which clears away any buildups, and if you live in a place with alkaline water (if your reservoir is on limestone, for example), that's even worse, since most of these plants are acid-loving. Use distilled water. It's cheap, albeit less convenient.

You'll find out the origins of most of these plants, and it's surprising how many of them are native to North America, not the jungles of Madagascar, for example.

There's plenty of excellent advice and reference material on each kind of carnivorous plant, from Venus Flytraps to Sundews to Bladderworts to Pitcher Plants (there are different species of these) to Cobra Lilies (a very challenging plant to grow, from the sounds of it).

We've got some carnivorous plants on the go here now. If we have success, you'll hear about it :)

 

Google Your Own Tech Support

02/19/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Internet

Oh boy, did I ever have fun with my web space provider over the past while. I just have a cheapie account with a 300 Mb quota, which has been more than sufficient for my needs.

So when the account usage suddenly grows by 100 Mb overnight without me having uploaded any files, I get worried. Especially when that trips it over quota. You can create new files... but you can't put anything in them.

So I started talking to tech support...

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Meet Gorbachev

02/19/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A]

Well, our canary called Gorbachev, anyhow. He's a fascinating little canary, all white except with a grey smoodge (as opposed to a smudge) on his head.

We went to Pisces to take a look at canaries. We were in luck that day, because they put out a number of canaries into the hall, many of them excellent singers.

It came down to a choice of two. One yellow who just belted out his song, and one white-with-a-smoodge who was slightly quieter but had a lovely song as well. It took a while to decide. In the end, the yellow fluffy guy lost out because we thought he might deafen us at some point :)

So we chose our white-n-grey canary, and they put him in a cardboard box for the journey to our place, and usually, pets are a little freaked out once they finally come out of there into their new home, but this little guy... no problem. Just hopped right out, hopped around his new environment, and started eating.

He made lots of peeps and chirps for days. We were wondering, though, if he was ever going to sing like he did in the store. They have a 4-day non-singing guarantee, where you can return a guaranteed singing canary at the end of four days if they don't sing. Well, he wasn't singing after four days. Some slightly longer chirping, but nothing like song.

We decided to hold onto him anyhow, at the very least since he was so personable. Well, a few days later, we were rewarded.

Here is a movie of Gorby singing. You may need to turn the audio up a little, since if we get too close, he gets too interested in us to sing, but this is representative of his pretty marvellous singing abilities. Enjoy.

UPDATE: Gorby passed away while we were on vacation, unfortunately. No real reason for his decline, as far as we know. The other birds in the cage seem fine. He is survived by Raisa who, while not up to Gorby's par in singing, a month later, she twitters and responds to us. We have yet to decide if we want to get a replacement companion, given how solitary canaries can be.

 

Another Case For Intrinsic Redshifts

02/19/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Science

Another pre-print from our very own Morley Bell of the Herzberg Institute with another interesting case for intrinsic redshifts in a paper bestowed with the enormous name, "Evidence that Quasars and Related Active Galaxies are Good Radio Standard Candles and that they are Likely to be a Lot Closer than their Redshifts Imply".

As you look further out into the universe, spectral lines caused by heated gases shift towards the red part of the spectrum. The further out you look, generally, the redder it gets. Conventional wisdom has it that this red-shift corresponds very closely with distance. This is "cosmological redshift". Conventional wisdom also holds that this is due to velocity away from us. A while back, this was believed to be an actual speed, but now it is believed to be due to "space expanding".

The existence of intrinsic redshift throws some caveats into this picture. An "intrinsic" redshift is a redshift not caused by distance or velocity. It can cause things to be more red-shifted than they "should" be, meaning that the objects are nearer or moving more slowly than conventional theory would indicate.

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Revenge of DOS

02/03/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Programming

A coworker of mine brought something to my attention. We were informed of trouble in testing one of our pieces. Funny... it had always been working. The test was construction related, and our tester had put in "con" (short for "construction") as a test user name...and it blew a small gasket.

If you used another user name, no problem. So what gives?

It was encountering an error making a directory. Hmmm? Privileges? What? Well, it was making a directory corresponding to this particular user name, C:\Blablabla\inbox\con. That failed.

Then it struck him, and it may strike some of us "old-timers". "con" is a device name from DOS days. It still functions. You can go Start->Run cmd [ENTER] then type:

COPY CON C:\MEEP.TXT [ENTER]

You can then keep typing until you hit Ctrl+Z, and what you typed will end up in MEEP.TXT.

Funny that in this day and age, you can't name a directory 'CON'.

Go ahead and try it (if you have a Windows machine) - make a new folder anywhere, and try to rename it as "con".

Other things you cannot name the folder: "nul", "lpt1" (or lpt plus any number), "aux", "com1" (or com plus any number). As an old-timer, I understand why: these are reserved system device names. Just kinda surprising/funny is all :)

 

Sam Brownback

01/29/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Politics, Religion

I just read an article on Rolling Stone about this man, and it personifies everything that frightens me about the theocratization movements south of the border.

It's a long article, but the thrust of Sam Brownback can be understood from a few quotes...

The most bluntly theocratic effort, however, is the Constitution Restoration Act, which Brownback co-sponsored with Jim DeMint, another former C Streeter who was then a congressman from South Carolina. If passed, it will strip the Supreme Court of the ability to even hear cases in which citizens protest faith-based abuses of power. Say the mayor of your town decides to declare Jesus lord and fire anyone who refuses to do so; or the principal of your local high school decides to read a fundamentalist prayer over the PA every morning; or the president declares the United States a Christian nation. Under the Constitution Restoration Act, that'll all be just fine.

and...

And yet compassionate conservatism, as Colson conceives it and Brownback implements it, is strikingly similar to plain old authoritarian conservatism. In place of liberation, it offers as an ideal what Colson calls "biblical obedience" and what Brownback terms "submission." The concept is derived from Romans 13, the scripture by which Brownback and Colson understand their power as God-given: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

What if these people get their way? What if they hoodwink the millions upon millions of moderate Christians into believing their tripe and supporting their agenda? Or, will they even have to do that - they already seem vastly over-represented compared to their actual fundamentalist voting base.

Ulch.

 

Kingdom Hearts

01/29/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Games

Link: http://na.square-enix.com/games/kingdomhearts/index1.html

This game was a surprise. It's one of the oddest concepts I've come across in a while - Final Fantasy meets Disney - but the truly strange thing is that it works, and even soaked-to-the-bone surety that running around with Goofy and Donald by your side can't possibly be anything other than cheesy... doesn't prevent you from enjoying the game thoroughly.

This seems a homage to the "horror lite" that Disney was occasionally so good at, like Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. Indeed, the beginning is pretty darned... creepy. Shadows, including your own, coming out of the ground to attack you. When you finally land on the idyllic paradise island, all seems to go well. It doesn't last, though.

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Diet Rite Comes To Canada!

01/27/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Low-Carb

Link: http://www.dietrite.com/

Well, at least to a store near me :)

I encountered these at the local Sobey's (anyone know what the deal is that had most but not all IGAs turning into a Sobey's?) in three flavours: cola, red raspberry and tangerine.

This is another Splenda-sweetened soft drink. (The only other ones I know of are the local Diet Orange Crush and the Talking Rain drinks at Costco) If you get an aftertaste from aspartame drinks, these are definitely worth a look.

The cola's not bad, but it's no Coca-Cola. It's reminiscent of RC Cola (no surprise, since the Diet Rite brand was a brand of RC), although a little less strong. The red raspberry is pretty good, but the clear winner of the bunch, in my opinion, is the tangerine. Tangerine flavour has a nicer "kick" to it than orange, and this is well-flavoured.

All the drinks are non-caffeinated, including the cola (which may or may not fit in with your plans), and have basically zero grams and milligrams of everything included on the nutrition label, including sodium.

 

BAD Medicine : Christopher Wanjek

01/19/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A]

Link: http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/047143499X/thecerealkill-20

This is a great book of bad and questionable medical practices, both modern (shark cartilage, dilutions in homeopathy) and older (bloodletting and using mercury). It's pretty readable, and paints an interesting picture, especially of modern-day society where, now that we are healthier than ever before, many strangely turn to 'cures' from the days before we knew what we were doing.

The book gives a fairly speedy treatment of old medical beliefs, who invented what, and how mankind was slowly starting to figure things out, when the Roman Empire fell, and medicine devolved into superstition again. Ideas like humours and chi/qi and the like would dog medicine well into the modern age.

Some of the pre/sorta-scientific things that happened in the Age of Enlightenment were pretty atrocious. 'Snake oil' was the least of peoples' problems. Sometimes, folks got bled, purged, what have you three times a week. Placebos in an era of this nasty kind of pseudo-medicine would have worked better than 'official' cures. Prayer or dilute "blessed" water instead of being bled three times a week would have given a much higher survival rate.

It then goes into a somewhat fun section debunking some body myths, like the "you only use 10% of your brain" myth, commandeered by some charlatans to convince you that their product/tape/lifestyle can help you use more. Or that the liver needs "detoxifying".

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Dark Matter, Missing Planets & New Comets : Tom van Flandern

01/11/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A]

What can I say about Tom van Flandern? Crank isn't quite the right term. Tom has some crankish ideas. He also has some interesting-but-not-mainstream ideas. However, he has a good background, has not gone off the deep end, and has made his own contributions to science and has an interesting resume. That makes him way more interesting than a crank.

Anyhow, in addition to his Meta Research web site, he has a book out with a mouthful of a title: "Dark Matter, Missing Planets & New Comets: Paradoxes Resolved, Origins Illuminated". The content ranges from crankish to extremely speculative to downright intriguing. I'll cover them in summary.

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How To Touch A Live Wire

01/09/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Common Sense, Science

File under Uncommon Common Sense...

Was talking to a coworker of mine whose father apparently used to put together his own televisions and radios in his home country, and learned a small, very salient piece of common-sense advice.

If you want to touch a wire to see whether it's live, touch it using the back of your hand. That way, if the current makes your muscles contract, your hand jerks away from the wire instead of grabbing it harder.

Not that I'm going to try out this advice any time soon... :)

 

The New Conservatives

01/07/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Politics

Normally, I don't get much up in arms about politics up here, but I've been worried. The Liberal party has been embroiled in financial scandals - mild compared to US and even Alberta - yet telling of an abuse of incumbency. In olden days I would have voted Conservative in a second to help send a strong message.

The Conservative Party these days isn't that old Conservative party. I've been investigating things in advance of the Canadian 2006 Election on Monday, January 23. Taking a walk through the How'd They Vote? web site is particularly instructive. This web site will help you track down your incumbent candidates' views on issues and party views in general.

It's leading me to think that the Conservative Party really is by and large just a renamed Alliance Party, and that is the closest thing we have had to the reactionary neoconservative part of the Republican party stateside.

My beliefs in a nutshell, politically, are to be financially responsible, cultivate personal responsibility (keep class action suits in check, make people responsible for their actions), but (and why should this be a "but"?) to be realistically, socially liberal, stay the hell out of the bedroom, and don't cowtow to fundamentalists of any stripe.

So when I see the likes of the votes on the Same-Sex Marriage Bill, or how votes were split on adding sexual orientation to hate crimes, or the anti-abortion record of the Alliance party, I get a little worried. Looking back, it's not the voting record of the old Tories that I'm worried about; it's purely the Alliance party that did a reverse takeover of the Conservative party that I'm worried about.

I don't support financial tomfoolery, but I cannot abide neoconservatives.

*sigh*

Make sure you investigate your specific candidates if you can, though. Some of them are worth voting in regardless of party affiliation.

I'm thinking that a minority Liberal government might be the best outcome here, though minority governments have historically (to my recollection) gotten investors jittery. Hopefully, substantially more oversight will help keep them in line.

 

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