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  11:09:53 am, by Nimble   , 196 words  
Categories: Reviews, Toys, Travel

Nexxtech Desktop Alarm Clock with Flashlight


Much as we may lament the takeover of most Radio Shack store by Circuit City, it has imparted to the store a "cool gadget" mentality, with pretty reasonable prices on most things, to boot.

We were looking for an alarm clock to take on safari. Well, The Source has a good half a pantful* and then some - a good twenty or so alarm-capable clocks, most with a bevy of other odd features, like a picture frame, or a remote control (!).

(*Yes, I realize this isn't in metric)

This fun little alarm clock is about a foot-long triangular stick. It's also a flashlight, which you can get by pulling out the left end a little. It also measures the temperature. It also has a sensor mode where if you touch it or otherwise move it, it lights up; great for seeing the time at night (we would suggest turning this feature off while it's in your luggage).

One of the fun bits about the interface is that you just twist the right cap forwards or backwards to switch modes, change the time, etc.

It was $15. That's a lot of fun for $15. Well, if you like odd gadgets.


  11:30:13 am, by Nimble   , 253 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Religion

Psalm 82


I was wandering around in other peoples' blogs, and ran across what seemed like a very odd quote indeed:

When God, or Yaweh, or Elohim, or any of his buddies from Psalm 82 gets off his ass and comes down and knocks on my door, I'll be open to the idea.

Psalm 82? Buddies in Psalm 82? That sounds a bit odd.

Well, from the King James Version:

82:1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
82:2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
82:3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
82:4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
82:5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
82:6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
82:7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

I've seen some arguments about Genesis with the two creation stories about the man and woman made by the Elohim (the "host", to some implying in a way that these are other gods), and 'Adam' and 'Eve' made, one from dust and one from a rib, by Yahweh/Jehovah.

It's interesting to see the signs of polytheism in parts of the Old Testament. If I was up on my textual criticism, I'm sure there might be more to be found in other, older manuscripts.


  11:24:17 pm, by Nimble   , 405 words  
Categories: Journal, Thoughts, Travel

Countdown to Africa

The big safari is nearly upon us!

I must admit, I'm getting nervous, although I feel a little better knowing our tickets are available for pickup (I thought I'd picked them up and forgotten where they were; we booked this quite a while ago!) I'm going to start calling hotels and making sure the bookings are solid as well, just to calm my nerves.

We're doing a tour-de-force. Before going to Africa, we are making a stop in Dubai (it's cheaper going London->Dubai->Nairobi, so we thought we would take advantage of it). It's going to likely be above body temperature outside there, though, so it's going to be interesting, but I don't think we're exactly going to be beach bunnies for that part.

We're taking an extra day in Nairobi, Kenya, to get acclimatized to Africa. This is their winter time (I don't have an immediate explanation as to why, since Kenya has the equator going through it) and the temperatures are actually supposed to be quite comfortable. Cooler than our summer typically is. (Take a look at the forecast)

We're going through quite a bit of Uganda for the first part of the trip. Reason being that the gorillas are in the southwest tip of Uganda. (For those keeping track of the geography, Uganda is to the west of Kenya, and Kenya is totally on the east coast of Africa, below Sudan and Somalia) Lake Victoria is partly in Uganda, and we'll be spending some time there as well.

We do a little bit of Kenya and a fair bit of Tanzania (to the south of Kenya), seeing things like the Ngorongoro Crater (you should see the crater using Google Earth - it's quite an amazing big circle from orbit), and the Serengeti, passing by (but not climbing) Kilimanjaro. (Odd bit of trivia: mlima = mountain in Swahili, kilima = hill - I guess it's like calling a big guy "tiny" :) )

We spend some time on Zanzibar, the Spice Island (not to be confused with the Spice Islands of Marco Polo and pirate fame in Indonesia) and in particular in Stone Town, which is a leftover from the ruling days of the Sultanate of Oman on this island.

Ought to be spectacular!

I'm going to have to get another memory card and battery for my camera, I think. I think I'll need to finally put that new hard drive in this computer to hold the pictures ;)

  10:47:46 pm, by Nimble   , 333 words  
Categories: Reviews, Books

A Passel of Swahili Books

Colloquial Swahili

What this book has going for it are a number of natural conversations, some good attention-gettings ("Hebu!") and the likes of how to invite people and turn down invitations, and some pretty clear grammar sections.

What's frustrating about this book (as with many language books) is that you practically need a Swahili-English dictionary to use it. Many words are missing from the vocabulary and end-of-the-book dictionary sections.

Simplified Swahili

This book is a crash course in the grammar and vocabulary. It's actually quite well put together, and every section explains in good, but not stuffy, detail the rules of Swahili and good rules of thumb that you might not notice otherwise.

It's pretty intense, though, and there's not a lot in the way of conversations in the book. An excellent companion for other resources.

Swahili Basic Course

This was the oddest of the lot, but not in a bad way. For those who've ever seen Foreign Service Institute books before, this will seem very familiar. The entire book is authored on a typewriter, or at least daisy-wheel printer. The quality of reproduction is not stellar, but it is readable.

What's particularly interesting about this book is the content. The book is big, for one, although not intensely dense. Each chapter (there are 150, though each chapter is 1-5 pages) begins with a fairly natural conversation. You get a few good grammar rules in each section. Then comes the good part. Due to the size of the book, they have fit in lots of substitution examples. Lots of "here's what the sentence looks like with different..." and they show you how the sentences change if you substitute other words, other people, other tenses. This is really, really helpful when trying to learn.

I didn't get the audio for this book. The audio is expensive, though now I'm regretting not getting it. To understand a Swahili speaker, I may have to ask them to write it down (Tafadhali uniandikie!) just so I can recognize it!

  11:11:11 am, by Nimble   , 602 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Science

Nick Matzke on Evolution


(A side note: I know there's a lot of jargon in here. One of these days, I'll have to tackle one jargonesque term at a time and try to bring it to a public level. In the meantime, if there's something that looks interesting but total Greek, just ask)

A member of the NCSE, Nick writes some pretty thorough, thoughtful things on evolutionary theory. He's responsible for such dissections of creationist and intelligent design thought as Icons of Obfuscation.

Here (comment #11) is a spirited screed by Nick on misunderstandings of the scale of some of the conflicts inside evolutionary theory, and in particular, misunderstandings of Richard Dawkins somehow dogmatically "not getting" some of these issues.

Full story »


  10:54:42 pm, by Nimble   , 75 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Science

Back In Black : Discovery Launches with Few Hitches


Yay! They're back into space, up in orbit. No explosions, no Busey-esque terrorists on the platform.

We took a break around lunchtime at work yesterday to watch the launch. I'd forgotten what it felt like to watch a launch, in particular when it's actually happening live, and you don't know what the next minutes are going to bring.

I hope this fades the pall that has been cast over manned spaceflight these past many years.

  07:22:08 pm, by Nimble   , 161 words  
Categories: Announcements [A], Politics

6% GST is Here

I didn't even notice it creeping up on us: the GST has been reduced from 7% to 6% here, just on the Canada Day weekend.

We first encountered it waiting in line behind a couple of people making returns at a store. We wondered why it was taking such a long time, but eventually puzzled out from the conversation that since the GST had changed, they actually had to refund and then re-buy the purchases in their system. The GST had changed? Oh!

Harper says he'll reduce it to 5%. It's good to know; hopefully we can afford it, mind you, since the 7% GST originally replaced a 9% 'hidden' manufacturer's tax. The money, as they say, has to come from somewhere.

We'll enjoy the break on large purchases, of course.

Places that already factor the GST into their prices to get nice round numbers probably aren't going to change their prices, of course. Didn't notice a whit of difference downstairs at the in-building convenience store :)

  11:41:28 am, by Nimble   , 340 words  
Categories: Announcements [A], Thoughts, Science

Space Not Expanding? and Other Questions


Not published yet, but came across this interesting paper which did a sort of Michelson-Morley experiment but for the expansion of space.

The hypothesis being tested was that if local space was expanding, effects of this would show up if you let lasers lase in a pump and probe beam setup. They indicate that we now have the measurement capability to detect the effect, if it exists, and they did not find it.

Now mind you, this would measure local expansion of space, and in some variations of Big Bang Theory, local space (i.e. that around our galaxy) does not actually expand. The alternative being that local space would expand but gravity and electromagnetism would keep everything bound into smaller clusters.

(Of course, the other alternative being that there's no space expansion whatsoever... :) )

Another interesting link from ACG is a slideshow on MOND, that is, MOdified Newtonian Dynamics.

You may have heard of the search for Dark Matter. Part of this search is inspired by the problem with galactic rotation curves. Galaxies don't rotate as they should, based on the matter we can see.

There are a multitude of possibilities. Either it's normal matter that you just can't see (a lot of it), or it's "non-baryonic matter" (a la Star Trek when they get smucked by a cosmic string), or our equation of gravity doesn't work as well on galactic scales.

MOND takes the latter approach, and the drop-off in gravitational pull lessens as the distance from the center widens. Take a look-see at the slides.

The couple of alternative cosmology tidbits that could play on MOND. MOND dynamics are pretty similar to some of the 'pushing gravity' or 'LeSagian' systems I have previously read, where gravity is from a push force, not a pull force. MOND-type graphs can result from gravity particles that get absorbed.

Another relates to the MOND problem with galaxy mergers. I follow Arp on one particular thing in thinking that most galaxy mergers are actually ejections. If they are, it causes MOND fewer problems.


  11:55:10 pm, by Nimble   , 130 words  
Categories: Distractions, Thoughts, Religion

The Brick Testament


Wow, talk about a labour of... well, some combination of emotions which may have included part love and part obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I'm talking about the Bible done entire in lego. (From a link on the Divine Afflatus)

When my mother was packing up for a last move to the UK, we came across some bibles. I was intrigued to see that they were all New Testament-only, and some tiny editions which I can surmise contain only the nicer chapters thereof.

That just totally misses all of the violent, gory fun of the Old Testament. (I suppose there was a reason why such bibles were called the "Good News Bible"!) Such as the massacre of the Canaanites in Judges.

The tent peg to the head is definitely a special effects tour-de-force :)

  11:29:42 pm, by Nimble   , 290 words  
Categories: Reviews, Games

Crib Wars


My wife and I gave her parents the game Crib Wars for Christmas, and I got to see it in action yesterday.

You can play regular crib on the board if you so care to. There's a spot marked "121" for the number of regular holes in the path.

What's the fun in that, though? In Crib Wars, you have cruel penalty boxes (knock you out for three whole hands), time traps (if you land within blue-bordered holes, you must go backwards along the blue route before you can go forward again), skipping areas that jump you forward, and advancement tracks which put you down a path that lets you skip whole sections.

You need to be a pretty strategic player for this. Simply being a good crib player isn't enough, since it's very hard to skip the time trap squares when you're pegging*. Of course, you have to be careful with your strategy when counting your hand(s) as well. It's easy to get overjoyed with a hand of 24 and land on the worst spot possible (exactly as happened to my wife yesterday)

(*For those not in the know with crib, when you're going around the table, dealing out cards so that things total up to 15, or 31, or getting last card, or making a pair or a straight with the last cards shown, you usually advance by one or two holes at a time. This is called 'pegging', and it's definitely dangerous in crib wars to be just in front of something bad while you're pegging)

It's a fun variant of crib, but prepare for a lot of frustration until you get the strategy down. Dena's mom went through one time trap four times before finally managing to skip it.

  11:15:08 pm, by Nimble   , 223 words  
Categories: Distractions

Canada Day Fireworks in Strathmore

Spending a pretty relaxing evening with the in-laws yesterday, we got out to see the fireworks. They moved it from the nearby pond to a bigger venue, which was understandable given the increasing population of Strathmore, but which robbed us of reflections in the water.

It was a mighty good show, as always. I do wonder whether fireworks technology really has just for some reason really advanced over the past five or ten years, or whether the really cool stuff is getting cheaper, or we're getting richer sponsors, or what have you. There were some very nifty effects on the go.

There were plenty of 'Rice Krispie'-sounding rockets. There were rockets that not only spewed a bright spiral trail on their way up, but had a grand regular fireworks explosion at the top. There was a cluster that burned really brightly on the way down and just lit up the place.

My favourite was one that exploded into some sixteen spinning white "spiral galaxies". They only had the one, though; it must have been pricy.

It's nice when you can get out of Calgary, whose fireworks are often amazing but impossible to get near without hours of advance planning, out to somewhere where it's still possible to park and just walk a couple of blocks, and where the fireworks are still pretty grand :)

  11:37:47 am, by Nimble   , 129 words  
Categories: Announcements [A]

Scotland Chooses a National Anthem

Well, no' quite.

It may not be official, but it was chosen in voting run by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

They had a choice between:

  • Scots Wha Hae (Scots Who Have)
  • Scotland the Brave (eminently recognizable when played on bagpipes)
  • A Man's a Man (For A' That)
  • Flower of Scotland
  • Highland Cathedral

You can listen to the songs here, but note that they have been strongly... "anthemized" from their originals.

Apparently, they chose Flower of Scotland. Interesting amongst the choices for not being traditional, but being of the modern era originally by the Corries.

I still think they missed a great chance. They should have offered up "Donald, Whaur's Yer Troosers (in English: Donald, Where Are Your Pants?!) as a choice.

I guess it wouldn't have been dignified :)


  12:16:09 am, by Nimble   , 45 words  
Categories: Distractions

What We Need More Of Is Science


I must say, I just get a kick out of this video (click 'Watch This Movie').

I wonder what Hawking thinks of his icon status.

I'll bet he'd rather just be walking and talking.

(Found out that Hawking thinks it's pretty good Spitting Image-style satire)


  10:05:22 pm, by Nimble   , 838 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Common Sense, Ethics, People

Future Little Science Experiments

I have a casual plan in mind to call my future children "my little science experiments", with a twinkle in my eye.

It's odd to be contemplating children. I feel at once too young and well past old enough. You know it's an investment. You know your lives are not your own for the next twenty or so years. It will be worth it. Regardless of the mere concept of children, though, you can only be so prepared for the real thing when you finally meet them ;)

Everyone's got plans of some sort or another for their children. Thoughts about how to discipline them, how to bring them up, what battles to fight. I've put a little thought into that so far, and what follows is a perhaps meandering yet representative list of what I plan to do, without yet having the experience of children that may yet render some of my plans moot :)

Full story »

  09:29:42 pm, by Nimble   , 302 words  
Categories: Reviews, Television



After seeing the movie Serenity, Dena and I decided that we might like to see the series. After picking it up from HMV for a modest $25, we can see now why Firefly fans were choked about the very first season being cancelled when it was. Fox only aired 11 of the 14 episodes, so even those who caught it on TV will find something new here.

This is a smart, puckish, entertaining series. Every bit the charm and wit of the movie based on it.

Set in a future where there are the more established "core worlds" controlled by a somewhat smothering government, and well-to-poorly terraformed planets out on the edges with a very, very "frontier" feel to them, and a lifestyle to match.

To call it "Cowboys in Space" would be tangentially accurate, but doesn't capture the heart of the show.

Having studied Mandarin at university, I get the biggest kick ever out of the sprinkling of Mandarin phrases (sounded like Taiwanese influence) in amongst southern-sounding (e.g. "oughta should") but odd dialected English, with its own vernacular like "shiny" for OK or "sly" for gay.

The writing and the acting are just... smart. It would be hard to portray a captain more human and more loyalty-inspiring than the lead character, Malcolm Reynolds. I can honestly say I don't think I've ever witnessed character dynamics as fascinating on the small screen.

The proof is in the pudding, mind you. We lapped up the entire series over the course of five days, and now... we're just a bit desperate for more. *sigh* If there are signs of them trying to start it up again, count us in.

Highly recommended, even for those who aren't big science fiction fans.

Now, if I can only get the theme song out of my head, I'll be fine.

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