Friday, January 16, 2009


Of a minor sort. It came to me in bed after I woke at mumble-something o'clock this morning. I now understand the plumbing of the heating system in the garage, and I know what I need to do to make it work much better. Off to the auto-supply store (and the quick-lube place and the pipe shop and probably the grocery store).

Yes, I work for the perfect company.

-15 and falling

So I'm up all night tonight babysitting our crazy homebrewed in-floor heating system in the garage. There's an electric water heater filled with water and antifreeze, an electric pump, lots of plastic tubing in the garage's concrete floor, and, naturally, just a few exposed water pipes under the laundry room, which overhangs a corner of the garage. So the challenge is to maintain 32°F plus a few degrees of insurance, which means tonight maintaining a 32° + 15° + insurance° = 55° difference between outside and inside, without running the system nonstop all night.

The dryer vents out into that corner of the garage, so I'm continually washing and drying the same two loads of laundry all night to pump warm air into the garage. Sometime after I wake up tomorrow I'll buy an electric heater to use out there.

Update: oh-bloody-hell o'clock: here's what Mathematica says about the temperature since yesterday at midnight; time in UTC, temp in °F:
{{2009, 1, 15}, {2009, 1, 16}},
Joined -> True,
DateTicksFormat -> {"Hour12Short", "AMPMLowerCase"}

Update: at five million o'clock we're 17 degrees colder than Barrow, Alaska, where they're enjoying the warmth of the tundra on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

Update: half-past gah: trains make odd sounds when the temp is this low. Going around the curve west of town they emit strange echoing screeches and along the straightaway a block south there's a deep thumping beat as they speed through.

Cell phone triangulation plus Google Maps

equals foiled kidnapping.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The joy of rioting

The latest from Theodore Dalrymple. Incipit:

I’ve only ever been in one political riot, and it soon became apparent to me in the course of it that there are few pleasures known to man greater than that of smashing shop and car windows for the good of humanity. (Here, incidentally, I really do mean man rather than woman, for women are but poor and unenthusiastic rioters.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Puck of Pook's Hill; or, my middle-brow reading list

Kicking around for things to do with the new blog, I figured I'd post a note for every book I finish. I have trouble finishing books, so this may be a small category.

Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill

One of the kids' favorite topics of mealtime conversation is what might have happened on our little third-of-an-acre of the prairie in past years, and what might happen right here in the future. That's exactly what Kipling does with a little patch of Sussex in this book, and it's a delight. He continues the idea in his short poem The Land, which follows the ancestors of Puck's Hobden through the millenia.

Pipe tobacco bleg

Do you buy pipe tobacco online? If so, please share your favorite suppliers.

Testing from emacs

Can I post from emacs using Mikey Coulson's e-blog.el?

I dunno.


Ricardo Montalban died today.

Come to think of it, that was odd

Back in 1980 or '81 a girl named Stefania Somethingorother joined our high school class for a few months. Her family had moved from Oman where her father had been stationed (she said), and it made for an interesting story. Now, though, I wonder - a guy stationed in Oman, just across the Gulf of Oman from Iran, at the end of the Iran hostage crisis (there's a link for you youngins), is suddenly sent to a perfectly quiet little Illinois farm town of 800... what the heck was going on?

I was reminded of that by the obituary of David Smiley, who, among his other improbable activities, served as the commander of the Sultan of Oman's armed forces.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dalrymple on Shakespeare and Solzhenitsyn

Why Shakespeare is for all time. An excerpt:

Take as a test case Macbeth, the shortest of his tragedies. The play is a study of ambition, the evil to which ambition leads when unrestrained by ethical inhibition, and the logic of evil once an evil course has been embarked upon. The ambition and the evil are part of man’s nature. All that is necessary to understand the play, therefore, is to be human: and if we attend to it closely, we shall have a deeper appreciation of its subject matter than if we read all the philosophy, sociology, criminology, and biology of the past two centuries. Statistics will not lead us to enlightenment about ourselves, any more than the elucidation of the human genome will render Shakespeare redundant. Those who think that an understanding of the double helix is the same as an understanding of ourselves are not only prey to an illusion but are stunting themselves as human beings, condemning themselves not to an advance in self-understanding but to a positive retrogression.

That there is why I read Dalrymple. Here is the true and universal genius of Shakespeare:

By depriving Macbeth of any particular predilection for evil that is not common to all men, and by denying him every possible circumstance that might justify or occasion his actions, Shakespeare excavates down to the line between good and evil that runs through every human heart, to use a phrase from The Gulag Archipelago that contradicts Solzhenitsyn’s faintly dismissive estimate of Shakepeare’s evil characters. He writes: “Gradually it was disclosed to me [in the Gulag] that the line separating good from evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.” And it is Shakespeare who shows us this line.

But he does more. He shows us not only how easily that line is crossed, even by someone without an excuse or a special propensity to do so, but what the consequences are of crossing it. And in showing us that the line is always there, easily and disastrously crossed, Shakespeare destroys the utopian illusion that social arrangements can be made so perfect that men will no longer have to strive to be good. Original sin—that is to say, the sin of having been born with human nature that contains within it the temptation to evil—will always make a mockery of attempts at perfection based upon manipulation of the environment. The prevention of evil will always require more than desirable social arrangements: it will forever require personal self-control and the conscious limitation of appetites.

National Review recommends...

...a top-100 list of non-fiction books via TSO.