30/4/2008

Lateral Thinking

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:35 pm

…is not one of my strong points. Which is one of the reasons God gave me Sue to be my complement. ;)

Dropped the old bike off this morning to get some work done on it for a Roadworthy Certificate so I can sell it. Sue had left the car at a train station on her way to work, so the plan was for me to take the train down there and pick up the car once I’d dropped off the bike.

I knew where one station was, about a km from the bike shop in one direction, but thought there was another station closer in the other direction. So I headed off, enjoying the walk in the morning cool and sunshine.

A kilometer or so later, I was still enjoying the walk, but the fact that I was carrying a helmet plus a heavy laptop in a backpack and wearing a heavy winter bike jacket was starting to make an impression on me. And I could still see no sign of the station I was looking for.

Could have kept walking for a long time, but at that point my atrophied lateral thinking capacity finally kicked in as I realised I was walking past a bus stop. Got the bus to the train station, got the car, and got to work. I’m sure it would have all been figured out much quicker if Suzie had been with me…

29/4/2008

I don’t deserve all my toys

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:38 am

… but I’m still glad I’ve got ‘em!

The new Macbook Pro.

26/4/2008

Everybody in the house say ‘Yo’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:44 am

I know I did this before, but I think it was at least a year ago.

It’s been a couple of weeks with no comments appearing on the blog. I know everyone’s busy, and it sounds like Lawrence and Dawn have been too busy wrestling for control of the mouse to comment! But the pervasive feeling that I’m talking to myself is growing again.

So it doesn’t have to be anything thoughtful or articulate or important, but if you happen to read this post, please do post a comment so I know I’m not just whistling in the wind.

23/4/2008

Global Cooling? (again)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:20 pm

Article published in several newspapers, including The Australian and the Courier-Mail, today:

http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,23586153-952,00.html

The claim is that global cooling is what we ought to be worrying about rather than warming.

One response to the issue:

http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-cooling-january-2007-to-january-2008.htm

Edit: And another: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/04/24/2226189.htm

22/4/2008

What I did today

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:57 pm

I had a draft of a book chapter, but I wasn’t happy with it. It was about 9500 words long, but it was broken – the last half didn’t really fit the first, and didn’t fit the theme of the book it’s going into. There are historical reasons for that, but they’re no longer valid and the chapter just sucked.

So I hacked it down to about 3500 words, and today has been spent writing it back up to about 7500 words or so.

It’s much, much better – and I feel a sense of achievement!

An Awesome Quote

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:16 am

Thanks Gromit for bringing it to my attention:

Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness– and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they’re selling– their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

–Arundhati Roy

21/4/2008

A way to boost my publication record?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:11 pm

This is cool, in a geeky sorta way: http://www.theage.com.au/news/technology/automaton-author-writes-up-a-storm/2008/04/21/1208742816514.html

20/4/2008

A few more bike pics

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:28 pm

17/4/2008

Oliver Twist-n-Go: 1000 km Bandit 1200S review

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:30 pm

In Dickens’ classic novel, the orphan Oliver Twist finishes his meager serving of gruel at the orphanage and has the temerity to ask “Please sir, may I have some more?” From memory he gets his ears boxed for his trouble.

This is not the experience of the Bandit rider: there’s always more. You just have to ask, and a heaping helping of horsies is there. From 2 grand in top, or wherever, it’s ‘twist and go’, never ‘twist and oh-blast-I-forgot-to-knock-it-back-2-cogs-go-you-mongrel!’

Almost stationary in traffic? 0-100 km/h in about 3.5 seconds means you’re outta there the second there’s a gap. Overtaking at 80? Better keep an eye on the speedo ‘cos a buck fifty comes up much too easy. The buck-twenty to buck-sixty roll-on will still pin ya ears back and take a couple of seconds… and beyond there I haven’t explored, but backing off knowing there’s another 80 km/h in reserve is nice. ‘More’ continues to be the theme everywhere. Haven’t wheelied it intentionally yet, but had the front wheel skipping a couple of times on take-offs that were well short of 100%, so it’s very easy to see how attainable it would be from a roll-on in first or second.

It’s also completely happy to putt along at 20 or to stop and start, although a heavyish hydraulic clutch means I’m kicking it into neutral at lights more often than I’m used to (after checking the mirrors and making sure I’m buffered). The gearbox is… well, ‘positive’ is a good word. It engages with more of a clunk than a snick, but in a good way… although pussyfooting around with changing into first on the move can sound pretty graunchy.

The aftermarket pipe yields a reasonable amount of extra power (I rode it with the stocker because it had had to be put back on for the roadworthy, and quickly changed back to the aftermarket). It also helps drivers be aware, and yields a very enjoyable rumble in tunnels and car parks. Stock power peaks at about 100 hp, I believe, but just adding a pipe and an air filter and jetting accordingly (as has been done on my bike) can add 10-15 more. Not in the league of current 170 hp sportsbikes, but lots none-the-less for road use. Probably even more important than power is torque, though. It’s huge and it’s relatively flat. Here’s a dyno graph showing stock exhaust vs aftermarket slipon muffler for a 2002 Bandit, but the issues are similar:

As you can see, significant torque virtually from 2 grand: grunt-monster!

The effect of the bike over all is kinda stealthy (apart from the pipe) – it’s pretty calm looking, no big fairings or wild graphics or whatever, pretty mellow seating position and so on. Quite happy to cruise along with the traffic – but twist the wrist and all pretense disappears.

Handles the pillion (The Boss, aka Mrs Bravus) very nicely. I don’t mention it to her too much, but I can flat-foot it with both of us on, while I’m balls-only (erm, of feet) when I’m on the bike by myself. I’m 173 cm/5’8″, and with the height and weight (people think of it as a big heavy bike, and in a way it is, but it only weighs the same as the current GSX650F – about 240 kg wet) this is probably not the bike for someone much shorter than me.

After a bit of a tweak (toughening up the back and softening the front a bit) from Dirty TRiX on the weekend it’s handling the bumpy corners better, tracking the bumps rather than bouncing a bit. Might stiffen the back up one notch further, since most of the time is spent with a pillion – the stiffening so far has not made it unmanagable or uncomfortable solo. Need to borrow or buy a C-spanner: it’s the one thing missing from the otherwise very complete underseat toolkit. While we’re in that area, plenty of underseat storage for rain gear or a spot of lunch.

Brakes are excellent: quite soft to pull but heaps of feel and power. It’s easy to see how these bikes can pop the back in the air as well as the front.

The bike handles well – took a while to get used to the extra commitment needed to throw something taller and heavier into the corners the way I was used to flicking the little, light 400, but that was me holding the bike back rather than vice versa. Big rubber both ends with limited chicken strips, and just a heap of fun. Reminding myself not to get onto it too hard when launching out of corners is still necessary. I bought it with Battlaxes both ends, and they seem to be getting the job done, though I may look at something a bit sportier but dual compound when those wear out.

I have a rack and sack on the bike that is big enough to hold a helmet, so The Boss rides in with me with her book bag in the sack, then swaps it for the helmet when she gets off. That means if I need to pick up the teens or do anything else during the day I have helmet, gloves and jacket handy.

Seating position is quite straight, although I rolled the bars back a fraction to lower them because it just felt a bit *too* cruiser-like. I really noticed how far back the pegs on the GSXF were by comparison when I got back on it – these are pretty much straight down. I don’t get tired or get a sore back or wrists at all, and it feels like it would work well as a medium-range tourer. Would work well for someone whose back gets sore in a sportier position but who isn’t quite ready to move on to a cruiser.

The screen I have on the bike is quite small – much smaller than that on the later 1200S, one of which I sometimes park next to at work. If I was going to do long distance touring I’d look into putting a bigger one on, but at legal and quasi-legal freeway speeds the buffeting is fairly limited even with the small screen.

There’s a reasonable amount of vibration at different revs, though not annoyingly much. I do need to shake some feeling back into the right hand sometimes after a long splitting session, though that’s probably as much due to a high state of alertness as to the vibration.

I bought it mainly because I wanted something bigger and faster and more powerful that was also comfortable for daily pillioning… and because I didn’t want a ‘real’ tourer like an ST or a GTR or one of the big Beemers. Honestly, it’s hard to think of anything else out there that suits my particular set of needs and tastes as well that I could buy, even with a much bigger budget. So, pretty much the perfect bike for me, in immaculate nick, with under 50,000 km on the clock, for well under 5 grand. Hard to go past for anyone whose circumstances are similar to mine.

(I planned to wait to post this until I had some more pics, which I’ll take this weekend, but I was basically procrastinating from doing another job and felt like writing it now, so pics are pending.)

Best. Buddha. Ever.

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:53 am

A friend’s picture from Japan:

See, now there’s a spiritual teacher I could follow. Where are the ‘laughing Jesus’ images?

Edit: Well, here, I guess: http://www.jesuslaughing.com/

16/4/2008

Explaining Explanation

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:33 am

Not so much a New Years resolution as just a realisation: I’ve been having trouble writing new academic papers lately, and I realised it was because I wasn’t reading enough academic books and papers. Got to feed the machine and spark off the ideas, then they’ll come and writing will be easier.

So instead of another novel this month (although I do also have Iain M Banks’ spectacular ‘Matter’ still going on the side), I’m reading David-Hillel Ruben’s excellent book ‘Explaining Explanation‘.

It’s a philosophical discussion of the questions around explanation – what is an explanation? how is an explanation different compared to other kinds of communication? how are scientific explanations similar to and different from everyday explanations?

Dr Ruben has a very clear, interesting style of writing, and I’m enjoying the book a lot, but reading philosophy – were everything has to be laid out the clearest and most unambiguous way possible, which makes it slow and painstaking – is the mental equivalent of taking your body to the gym. So I’m starting to feel the burn, and suspect I’ll be mentally a bit stiff and sore for a few days. But soon I’ll have the mental muscles for Olympic feats of writing!

15/4/2008

The Future

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:13 pm

Check out this fully working and powerful electric motocross bike. Just too cool, and a great indication of where things might go. Charge it with renewable power and all sorts of things are possible.

14/4/2008

My Head Almost Exploded

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:19 am

…at church last night. We decided to try to evening service at Kenmore Baptist, which is more youth oriented (translation: the drums are muted less). The theme of the sermon was environmental sustainability and stewardship, and it was taken in two sections by two mid-20s guys. Apparently the second section was excellent – a good, well thought out, entertainingly presented and scriptural discussion of our responsibility to care for the earth. Unfortunately I’d had to leave before it began to avert the abovementioned cranial catastrophe.

The first speaker claimed he was going to deliver a balanced presentation on climate change/global warming. He did nothing of the sort, showing large chunks from ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’, and a few small chunks from ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, used only to debunk them. He presented factually wrong claim after irrelevant nonsense after false dichotomy.

  • He claimed moose are as much of a global warming problem as cars, because a moose produces as much CO21 as a car. That’s true, but there are a couple of hundred thousand moose and falling and 500 million cars and rising – so cars are something like 200,000% more of a problem than moose.
  • He said Australians produce only 1.5% of global CO2 emissions – which is true, but we have only 0.3% of world population, so we produce far more than our share.
  • He claimed human activities produce only 5% of total CO2 emissions. That’s also true, but only by comparing our 32 gigatonnes per year to the 770 gigatonnes produced by plants (including those in the oceans). But those 770 Gt are part of a balanced process whereby the plants take up that same amount again through photosynthesis, meaning the plants’ net emissions are zero. In terms of net emissions – which are what count in increasing greenhouse gases – divide our 32 Gt by the plants’ zero and our contribution is infinitely larger, at least mathematically speaking.

He also looked at some economic figures, claiming it cost more economically to mitigate climate change than simply to suffer the consequences, and claimed that meant it was not worth doing anything. That ignores the human costs of climate change and the very issues the church should (arguably) be more worried about than corporate bottom lines.

I could go on, but I’m not sure there’s a lot of point. Besides, you guys didn’t hear this particular sermon, so why do you care?

I guess I’m also interested in the power of the pulpit – a captive audience with an investment in accepting what is said from the pulpit, or at least examining it favourably – and whether and how it should be used in addressing social issues. On one hand I think if the church cuts itself off from the world and doesn’t address the issues of the day it risks becoming irrelevant. On the other, I think it’s a power that needs to be used very carefully and sensitively, with appropriate respect for the evidence, the Bible and the congregation/audience.

Would I have been less annoyed or concerned if the presentation had agreed with my own position on the issues? Probably – and that worries me. I hope, though, that if a presentation saying ‘We do have a responsibility to care for the earth and reduce our CO2 emissions’ was as sloppy and misleading as this one, I’d critique it too.

  1. The fact that his PowerPoint show rendered ‘CO2‘ as ‘CO2‘ kind of alerted me that this might not be the person to take scientific information from

9/4/2008

The Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything + 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:25 pm

…is how old I am today.

8/4/2008

How Not To Get Rich

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:47 pm

So, I just got the annual royalty statement for my first book, ‘Weaving Narrative Nets’, today. I can look forward to a check for the grand sum of US$69.91 plus €24.56. ;)

On the one hand it’s a little disappointing that the hardback version only sold 4 copies in Europe and 9 in America this year, and the paperback only 12 in Europe and 13 in America.

On the other hand, it’s kinda cool that, 4 years after publication, and once all the automatic library purchases (which made me a couple of hundred bucks in the first year) are out of the system, there are 38 people around the world who were willing to fork over substantial chunks of their own money to read my words.

Still, if you write academic books, don’t plan on giving up your day job.

Blessings on the Beach

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:58 am

The girls are on school holidays this week, but Sue and I are still working, so they’ll be home alone for most of the week. We decided to take Monday off, though, and spend some time together. Cassie drove the hour and a quarter down to the Gold Coast – she’s learning, so hill starts were an occasion for some anxiety, but she did a great job.

It wasn’t really beach weather – windy and rough, and cold by Queensland standards (maybe mid-20s C in the air and 24 in the water) – but we set out for a walk along the beach. It was pretty pleasant on the way up the beach, but on the way back the wind picked up until our legs were getting sandblasted and it was work to make progress against it, and then it started to rain… We basically grinned and kept on walking, got back to the car and headed out to find a picnic area. The rain stopped and we found a really cute little park beside a river and enjoyed our picnic lunch.

Then it was off to the big mall nearby. I took the latest Iain M Banks novel, which is huge and which I’m loving to bits, and sat on the thoughtfully-provided benches in the mall as the three young ladies moved slowly and with great enjoyment through all the clothing and shoe shops in the place. Then it was coffee and cake and we headed off home.

Just a really simple, lazy day – but Sue and I realise what a blessing and a privilege it is that our 14 and 17 year old offspring want to spend the day with us and with each other. I think part of the secret of being happy in life is just to recognise that stuff when it’s happening, not wait to experience it only as nostalgia.

5/4/2008

The Ruby Toad: Art and Meaning

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:00 am

A little excerpt from Bruce Sterling’s novel ‘Holy Fire’, which I’m reading at the moment. It’s a nice inquiry into what constitutes art and value.

Paul was sitting among a group of perhaps a dozen people. He had them spellbound.

Paul opened a small metal shipping canister and removed a lifesize carving of a garden toad. The squat and polished toad appeared to be chiselled from a solid ruby.

‘Is this one beautiful?’ Paul said. ‘You tell me, Sergei.’

‘Well,’ said Sergei, ‘if it’s a product of the Fabergé workshop as you tell us it is, then of course it’s beautiful. Look at that exquisite workmanship.’

‘It’s a toad, Sergei. Are toads beautiful?’

‘Of course toads can be beautiful. Here is your proof.’

‘If someone said you were as beautiful as a toad, would you be pleased?’

‘You are changing the context,’ Sergei said sulkily.

‘But isn’t that what the piece itself is doing? The shock of disbelief is the core of its aesthetic. Imagine people in the year 1912, taking a rare jewel and spending months of dedicated hand labour turning it into a toad. Isn’t that perverse? It’s that very perversity which gives the piece its trophy-meaning. This is a Fabergé original, designed for a Czarist aristocrat. Czarist society was a culture generating jewelled toads.’

Paul’s little crowd exchanged uneasy glances. They scarcely dared to interrupt him.

‘Still – are we to imagine that Czarist aristocrats believed that toads are beautiful? Does anyone here imagine that some Czarist aristocrat asked the Fabergé atelier to make her a beautiful toad?’ Paul gazed about the circle. ‘But don’t you imagine she was pleased with the result? Once she possessed it, she surely found it beautiful.’

‘I love the toad,’ Maya volunteered. ‘I wouldn’t mind owning that toad myself.’

‘What would you do with it, Maya?’

‘I’d keep it on my bureau and admire it every day.’

‘Then take it,’ Paul said. He handed it to her. It was surprisingly heavy; it felt just like a red stone toad.

‘Of course that’s not really a valuable Fabergé heirloom,’ Paul told them all, casually. ‘It’s an identical museum replica. The Fabergé original was laser-scanned to an accuracy of a few microns, and then instantiated in modern vapour-deposition. Oddly, there were even a few flaws introduced, so that the artificial ruby is indistinguishable from the genuine corundum that forms a natural ruby. About a hundred toads were made in all.’

‘Oh, well, of course,’ said Maya. She looked at the little red toad. It was somewhat less beautiful now, but it was still a remarkable likeness of a toad.

‘Actually, there were over ten thousand made. It’s not artificial ruby, either. I lied about that. It’s only plastic.’

‘Oh.’

‘It wasn’t even fresh plastic,’ Paul said relentlessly. ‘It was recycled garbage plastic, mined from a twentieth-century dump. I just pretended it was the Fabergé original, in order to make my point.’

‘Oh no,’ Maya mourned. People began laughing.

‘I’m joking, of course,’ Paul said cheerily. ‘In point of fact, that truly is a Fabergé original. It was made in Moskva in 1912. The labour took fourteen skilled artisans a full five months to complete. It’s one of a kind, completely irreplacable. I’ve borrowed it from the Antikensammlungen in München. For heaven’s sake, don’t drop it.’

‘You’d better have it back, then,’ Maya said.

‘No, you hold it for a while, my dear’.

‘I don’t think so – it wears me out when it keeps mutating like this.’

‘What if I told you that it wasn’t even made by Fabergé? That in fact it was an actual toad? Not human workmanship mimicking a toad, but an actual scanned garden toad. Cast in – well, you can choose the material.’

Maya looked at the sculpture. It was a sweet thing to hold, and there was something about it that she truly did like, but it was making her brain hurt. ‘You’re really asking me if a photograph of a toad can have the same beauty as a painting of a toad.’

‘Can it?’

‘Maybe they’re beautiful in different categories.’ She looked around. ‘Would someone else hold this, please?’

Sergei took it off her hands with a show of bravado and pretended to smack the toad against the table. ‘Don’t,’ Paul said patiently. ‘Just a moment ago you admired it. What changed your mind?’

4/4/2008

Did You Know I Have My Own Metal Band?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:54 pm

Here’s Bravus

Ascetic or Epicurean

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:40 am

So, my fast from my more excessive uses of the web and forums has been productive so far – I’ve sent off abstracts to two conferences, marked a heap of assignments, tidied my office, set myself up a task list and calendar to get myself much more organised, had meetings, and just generally been ludicrously productive! ;) (A side effect is that this blog is getting more posts than usual too.)

I was thinking a bit about the idea of fasting, though. Fasts (in the sense of abstaining from food for a while) were probably undertaken out of one of two possible motivations, although complicated by religion and other issues. (And Marshdrifter, this blog’s consultant archaeologist, may well have comments that shatter my simple dichotomy!)

One was asceticism: a philosophy that there was virtue in abstaining from physical pleasures including sex, alcohol and luxurious foods. Ascetics tended to think of the body as evil, or at least out of control, and as something to be brought into the firm control of the will. For them, abstinence became an on-going way of life. In the religious version of this philosophy, the suffering caused by abstaining was offered as a sacrifice to God.

The other was epicureanism, which is pretty much the opposite. The epicureans were devoted to pleasure, and believed that peace, freedom, absence from pain and the simple pleasures of good food and wine were the greatest good in life. But the epicureans would sometimes fast too, because they felt that there was a greater pleasure in returning to food when you’re really hungry for it than forcing it down when you’ve been over-eating.

Although my Web Fast post might have used language that suggested it was about bringing my web addiction under control, I think really this break is more epicurean than ascetic: I love the social life I have with my online friends, but I’d been gorging on it so much and so long that it had started to lose its flavor and just become something mechanical. Taking a break means I miss it already, and in a few weeks when I’m completely caught up on everything and positioned to fly through the probation hearings for my job and so on, it’ll be a real and deep pleasure to return to the on-going social worlds of the forums… albeit supping a bit more delicately rather than shoveling it in.

3/4/2008

Whew

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:08 pm

As I parked my bike at work this morning the parking inspector guy walked toward me, and my heart kinda sank because I haven’t got around to renewing my parking permit for this year. He had his machine in hand and everything… but it turned out all he wanted to do was talk bikes! He has a couple, and is thinking about getting one like mine, so he wanted to try sitting on mine and see whether it was too tall. We had a very pleasant chat and then he wandered off. Guess I’d better get that permit.