Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Want to find a decent value for pi but all you've got are some toothpicks? Draw parallel lines as far apart as the length of the toothpicks, and then drop the toothpicks on them. The number that cross a line, divided by the number dropped, will give you an estimate for pi. This has been your '50's math moment.
I'm testing a theory that the ads are based on certain keywords mentioned in the blog. With that disclaimer:
Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja Ninja
The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Eigth Level of Hell - the Malebolge!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)High
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Low
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test
Eigth, eh?

Monday, April 28, 2003

Greetings fans! I am momentarily communicado, so I thought I'd assure you all of my continued existence. I've just been running the Illinois river in southwestern Oregon, and it is amazing. Remote; pristine; beautiful water; splendid, fun rapids, except for the Greenwall, which is scary as hell. There are carnivorous plants too! I'll try and get a better post up when computer access becomes more satisfactory; the Grant's Pass public library just isn't cutting it. "Til then, enjoy Odious, and try not to forget about me.

Friday, April 25, 2003

The most common injury during a fight is broken knuckles, from people who don't realize that their opponent's head is hard. The second most common is a sprained wrist, from people who don't realize that their opponent is not going to go flying backwards after impact. This is why videos like "Gun to the side of the head" make me wince.
On a similar topic, don't try to break a beer bottle if you're in a bar fight. I just did research on this subject, and of twenty-four bottles, not one ended up as a decent weapon. Mostly, I just had lots of glass going every-which-way, and a piece of the neck of the bottle left in my hand. Seven of twenty-four times the neck was long enough to be used to cut, while not adding to the range of attacks. The rest of the time it was useless, especially if one were not (as I was) wearing thick gloves. And eye protection. Safety first!
UPDATE: I should mention that I really like "Choke from the front".

Thursday, April 24, 2003

The banner ads at the top of this page seem determined to irritate me. First I insult Bertrand Russell, and they try to sell his books, and now they're promoting Krav Maga. And while I don't have anything nasty to say about it off-hand, I'd certainly rather not have an ad for it at the top of the page. Maybe Mr. Ganz would like this ad; I'd just as soon go back to those which insinuated that my manhood was sub-par.

Monday, April 21, 2003

I was listening to Democracy Now!, which I sometimes do when I can't argue with an intelligent person, just as sometimes instead of sugar in my coffee I use low-calorie ground glass, and I overheard something strange. Ms. Goodman was quoting extensively from the Onion article, 137 More Oil Wells Liberated for Democracy. I imagine that she wasn't pulling a 'Beijing Evening News', so is this supposed to pass for rational argument?

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Someday I'd like to be like Victor Davis Hanson, and start a paragraph with the sentence, "I thought immediately of the macabre aftermath to the battle of Arginusae in 406 B.C."

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Anyone wishing to learn about self-defense techniques with a cane might wish to visit Cane Masters. They don't appear to have any books on the subjects, but there are videos and several excellent links.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

An overly simplified but still accurate account of the decline in armor traces it to the invention of firearms. Although the heavy plate one thinks of knights wearing was by no means proof against damage before that time, the advent of cannon and musket was the first note of its deathknell. Weapons that had needed significant force to damage the occupant of such a suit, like the holy water sprinkler were replaced by slim swords designed to cut or puncture a lightly armored opponent. Combat had changed.

And as combat changed, the schools which taught it changed as well, although there were dissenters. Schools of the fence sprang up throughout major cities, to teach the bravos and ruffians to survive in this new arena. We like to think of the musketeers of Dumas, skilled swordsman meeting their opponents at a pre-arranged time and fighting with and for their honor. But swordsplay was just as commonly an assault, as most knife attacks are today (for an excellent overview of knife attacks, I recommend Marc MacYoung's videos on the subject). Schools taught the use of a bar mug in the off hand as a parrying tool, since bars were a common place for these brawls. Cloaks would be wrapped around the arm, bar stools used to disarm, and the tactical use of a kick to the groin or sand thrown in the eyes was often stressed.

All of this is foreign to fencing as the Olympic sport. Such techniques, while helpful for practice, are removed from the chaos and ferocity of a real fight. As an example, current foil fencer will 'flick' their opponent, bending the sword around in an arc (thus avoiding the parrying blade) to strike the tip against their opponent. While the tip is, at such a time, the second fastest moving object in the Olympics (the fastest is the biathlete's bullet), an attack like that is not designed to disable an opponent, but to win a point. Can such an attack have any practical value?

Enter the sjambok. I received one of these weapons for Christmas, and promptly fell in love with it. A flexible weapon, it can be used like a stick, but unlike the stick is almost completely non-lethal (although one might strangle the opponent with it). The weapon will cut through blue jeans, as I have found through painful experience, and is exceedingly effective when used along eight of the nine lines of attack (it is by no means a thrusting weapon) just as a stick may be.

But the flicks which I thought useless and confined to sport fencing are where the sjambok truly shines. A proper flick will put a hole in an aluminum can. The angle of attack is such that it is quite difficult to defend against, as the sjambok will bend around a block easily, only gaining force as the circle about which it is turning has its radius shortened. While the sjambok cannot be used to damage as a stick may, or to entangle as a whip, it is a self-defense weapon without parallel, giving painful wounds that are almost impossible to guard against.

Further ungulate news: a banteng has just been cloned. Now can I eat one?

Monday, April 07, 2003

Here in Santa Fe, it was the case that protestors both pro and con would stand on the corner of St. Francis and Cerrillos and demonstrate that they had an opinion. Now, since this activity proved rather awkward to coordinate with actually using the roads, there are far fewer of them, and I am surprised to find that I miss them. As usual, here's someone far wiser than I to speak for me:

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons of the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no grounds for preferring either opinion....Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations....He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them, who defend them in earnest and do their utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of, else he will never really possess himself of the portion of the truth which meets and removes that difficulty.

-John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

There's a need for intelligent dissent, if only to make right opinion into knowledge, and, frankly, Democracy Now! just isn't cutting it. Amy Goodman: get a job.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

I saw a car today with a bumper sticker that read "SMASH CAPITALISM". In the back window was a sign: For Sale. Man, these guys aren't even phoning it in anymore.
In case you were wondering whose monkey would win: Peculiar.

(Link found via Joanne Jacobs)

Friday, April 04, 2003

Still on animals: Here are some Daghestani snake milkers, actually quite serious and enterprising chaps. And why do we so seldom get to enjoy photographs of or references to takins? But those who enjoyed The Cephalopod Page may appreciate The Ultimate Ungulate Page, which has takins as well.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

More squid updates: Slightly more information on Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, cast in a more lurid light, may be found here and here. Anyone generally interested in this sort of thing (and only the truly benighted would not be) would do well to browse about The Cephalopod Page, which contains not only fascinating text, but also excellent photographs and a very cool squid icon which emits ink as it follows your mouse arrow around.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

And speaking of squids, here's a very strange one.
Colossal squid, eh? I'd heard of their arms being found in a sperm whale's stomach before, which just proves how tough sperm whales are. Makes one respect Queequeg a bit more, doesn't it? The article doesn't answer the question I was most interested in: what was in the squid's stomach?
I've been reading Bertrand Russell's Problems of Philosophy. It's an excellent guide to other books one might wish to read, but has nothing else to recommend it. Here's his conclusion, after having talked of the great minds of philosophy:

Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind is also rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.

Hokum and hogwash. Put all that into less high-minded language, and we shall have: Philosophy is useless for any real endeavor, but studying it is important for the young, that they may believe nothing to be true and be proper little skeptics. We've seen this before. Great God! I'd rather be a materialist suckled at a creed outworn than listen to this nonsense, which went out of style with Hume, who is as far beyond Russell as the moon beyond a firefly.

I dislike 'Bulverism', as C.S. Lewis called it, a.k.a. the argumentum ad hominem. But Russell's willful misunderstanding and misstatement of the positions of the philosophers he discusses gives rise to a belief that he is far more comfortable without the truth than with it; that he distrusts any conclusion, although he is perfectly willing to use the fruits of science so long as it is refused the title of absolute truth; and that he wishes for nothing more than to abandon philosophy's great problems (which to him, rather than Kant's liberty, immortality, and god, are certainty and solipsism) as insoluble. His argument against Hegel, in particular, is poorly thought out and more poorly expressed.

I'm going to close with a passage from Galen, a genuine seeker of knowledge and one who understood the philosophy which was at the root of his work.

Some of these people [materialists] have even expressly declared that the soul possesses no reasoning faculty [indeed, earlier Galen states that atomism precludes a belief in the soul], but that we are led like cattle by the impression of our senses, and are unable to refuse or dissent from anything. In their view, obviously, courage, wisdom, temperance, and self-control are all mere nonsense, we do not love either each other or our offspring, nor does the god care anything for us.

Odell Shepard, author of The Lore of the Unicorn says something striking of medieval scientists, that they expected wonders of the world and were not surprised to find them. Those who get out in the world, instead of pontificating about it from London, might find the same.