ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms

August 2006


Musings28 Aug 2006

I did a load of wash today, and because someone had abandoned their wardrobe in the good dryer, I had to use the bad dryer.

I plugged my money in and came back at the appointed time, only to discover (surprise!) that my clothes were still damp. Sighing, I put in a second loony (machine only takes $1 at a time) and walked away again. When I was checking on it a short while later (still damp, wait another 10 minutes) it occurred to me that this was all wrong.

My parents’ dryer has a sensor in it that determines if your clothes are dry. When you set it, you don’t set it according to time, you set it according to the desired level of dryness. When I retrieved my clothes about half way through my second dry cycle (for which I’d paid full price), I realized that pay machines ought to work in the same way. What if instead of $1 entitling me to 50 minutes of dryer time, $1 entitled me to dry clothes? A shocking idea, I know.

Books25 Aug 2006

My research-mate Dave is leaving UNB and decided to give away a great big pile of his books. Between his generosity and my supervisor snagging some books for me from a retiring prof a few months back, I now own no less than seven books with the title “Artificial Intelligence” (yes, they are all different. AI authors need a bit more creativity in their book-naming).

Other highlights from Dave’s castoffs include the MIT Algorithms book, Bertrand Russel, Freeman Dyson, Richard Dawkin (The Selfish Gene – I’ve now got three Dawkins books, which I think is enough to start calling it a “collection”), and a book on wine.

Who knew that August 25th was also Christmas?

Books and Musings21 Aug 2006

Today as I did some planning for the remaining work on my thesis, the phrase “A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step” popped into my head. It’s a good bit of inspiration for anyone embarking on a large task. I couldn’t quite remember the origin, so I googled it.

It’s from the Tao Te Ching, that wonderful (and short) book of Chinese philosophy, for which there are as many different English translations as there are spring rolls at a Chinese food buffet (next time you’re in Chapters look for the Tao Te Ching shelf…).

I happened across this page that suggested

Rather than emphasizing the first step, Lau Tzu regarded action as something that arises naturally from stillness. Another potential phrasing would be “Even the longest journey must begin where you stand.”

Which made my happy little “go get your work done” slogan sound like it belonged on a motivational poster and not in an ancient wise text. I suppose that means the way the Tao sounds depends a lot on the translator. For example, a quick search turned up an online version that contains the “first step” translation:

Prevent problems before they arise.
Take action before things get out of hand.
The tallest tree
begins as a tiny sprout.
The tallest building
starts with one shovel of dirt.
A journey of a thousand miles
starts with a single foot step.

It’s too bad Lao-Tzu wasn’t around today, he could make a killing on management training seminars. An alternative translation of the same passage reads:

Yet a tree broader than a man can embrace is born of a tiny shoot;
A dam greater than a river can overflow starts with a clod of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles begins at the spot under one’s feet.

Therefore deal with things before they happen;
Create order before there is confusion.

News17 Aug 2006

I’ve been in Nova Scotia for a week, the highlight of the trip being the Dutch Mason Blues Festival. I got back to Fredericton last night and today began the task of sorting out a few things.

My as yet unfinished thesis has necessitated my staying on here in F-town for a bit longer. This is problematic for a number of reasons, though one of the most immediate was my lack of a place to live come September the first.

Last night I began the process of boxing up some of my books and other odds and ends with the intention of sending them home with Mom, thus lightening the load I’d eventually have to lug to my (hypothetical) new digs. Today I found a new apartment: same as the old apartment. It turns out that while my place had been rented for September already, the identical apartment across the hall had not, and the person who had rented mine was willing to switch (if not, I’d likely be carrying my stuff across the hall, which as moves go is pretty darn easy).

So, that leaves me with a place to live (yay!), several stacks of books on the floor, a couple half-packed boxes, and two empty bookshelves. I guess this a good opportunity to alphabetize my philosophy collection…

Food and News07 Aug 2006

Shengrong came over to teach me how to make spring rolls on Saturday. The results were tasty and I’ve only just ran out. Now I am spring-roll-less and sad. I suppose I can remedy that situation by my own arts, however (such is the joy of learning how to do a new thing).

Our spring roll session began at the “Friendship Store Convenience and Chinese Grocery” where we bought some bean-based noodles and other odds and ends. While in the shop I noticed that the beverage display case beside the one labelled “Pepsi” had the slogan “Crunchy and Refreshing” with a picture of a beaming Chinese fellow on it. I’m fairly sure I’ve not seen those two adjectives together on a drink cooler before…

Anyhow, despite some minor hiccups in the production (Like me accidentally dumping too much oil into the pan in the middle of cooking the spring roll insides – note to self, don’t pour oil left handed…), the spring rolls turned out quite nicely. Prior to Saturday I honestly had no clue how spring rolls were fabricated (“How do they put the tasty bits inside the little tube?”, etc.). I enjoy those little “so *that’s* how they do it!” moments. And, I enjoy spring rolls, so it was a good afternoon all around.

Oh, and I also learned that one of the key factors in spring rolls is to make sure to eat them with sweet chili sauce. This should not be overlooked.

Movies03 Aug 2006

I recently watched Richard Dawkins’ BBC documentary on religion, “The Root of All Evil?” (And on a completely unrelated note, there sure is a lot of copyrighted material posted on YouTube. I’m sure that site is one lawsuit away from the end of its glory days. Oh well, it’s fun while it lasts).

I’m a bit of a Dawkins fan, even though he’s a) kind of a jerk, and b) the one time I mentioned his name to an actual biologist I was rewarded with a string of profanity, but I found his documentary to be rather uninspiring. It covers a lot of the same ground he’s been over (more effectively) in his writings, and includes a lot of interviews where Dawkins scowls at various people of faith who mostly try to humour him. I was left thinking “Come on Richard, these people are just people, leave ‘em alone” (though at one point he interviewed an American preacher who defended the murder of abortion doctors, so maybe I’m just desensitized after all the time I’ve spent reading about this stuff online…). It’s difficult to get worked up over something as common-place as religious belief. You’re sort of left saying things like, “Well, of course the middle east is a mess, but that’s the way it’s always been, so what?”.

The main thrust of the documentary is that religion makes people believe irrational (and untrue) things, and this is dangerous. Maybe so, but I felt he didn’t make his case as strongly as he could have. He didn’t examine any one issue in enough depth for me. If you want to learn about mega churches, for example, you’d be better off reading the good piece Harper’s did on the very same Church visited in the documentary. If you want to learn about Dawkins views on religious schools, you can read his own words. And so on. I felt the documentary was a bit weak.

Although he addressed the “big 3″ Abrahamic religions, Dawkins focused mainly on Christianity and Judaism, with (if I recall) just one interview with a follower of Islam. I found this a bit strange. In fact, I almost wonder if he had to tread carefully in order to get his piece on the air. I’m almost sure he wouldn’t have put the question mark at the end of the title unless he had too.

Anyhow, it’s still worth a look if you get a chance to see it. Here’s the bit about mega churches.

Edit: Or, perhaps I’m wrong on this. According to wikipedia, Dawkins didn’t want to call it “The Root of All Evil?” but the BBC wanted to “create controversy”.