Saturday, December 30, 2006

Product endorsements, unsponsored

It's a materialistic world. Buying good things gives us pleasure, sometimes out of all proportion to the relative merits of what we bought over its competition. Careful manipulation of brand image by manufacturers makes people feel better about their purchases - for example research shows that car ads are read more carefully by people who just bought the advertised car than by people in the market for that car.

Nevertheless, there are things that the Halfwise household has acquired in the past year or so whose essential goodness delivers satisfaction every time they are used. They are from suppliers who do not advertise much, if at all, so it's not as if relentless advertising has hauled me through my post-purchase remorse into a zone of rationalizing a poor purchase.

Here are my top 5:
  • Ohm Acoustics Micro Tall speakers. Read this review. Enjoy
  • HSU VTF-2 powered subwoofer. Affordable, magnificent, customizable sound down to 25 hz. Read this review. Enjoy
  • VigorFit 3000 Home Gym. Like the infomercial one featuring Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley, only better in every way and only 1/3 the price. Buy one on eBay
  • Industrial Lite folding ladder. Like the Little Giant infomercial one, and again only 1/3 the price. I got mine at Home Depot
  • Creative Zen MP3 player. A gigabyte of good portable sound, the size of a Bic lighter, with tremendous features that put it ahead of better known alternatives
Are there products out there that you are genuinely pleased with? Let me know.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Alexander Pope, on year-end reflections

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the skeptic side
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest.
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer,
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Percussion instruments the form of two big congas and some egg shakers have entered my home, along with a silver shaker.

And on their way are a vibraslap, maracas, a triangle, an afuche, a cabasa and an agogo.

I hope I can keep them straight. They all make noise, all are played by hand, all sound like fun to me. The idea is to get going on some kind of drum circle.

I tuned the congas to the same interval as "here comes the bride". Is that a fourth? Then I tuned my bongos to the same interval but a higher pitch. It's actually amazing to me how much pitch variation can be achieved on a conga - the edge of the drum delivers notes that are so high, the centre much lower, and a strike with the heel of the hand lower still.

It's been hard trying to play along with music on the stereo. I keep listening for the rhythm and trying to match it, which of course puts me behind the beat. And the people that play drums for a living? They're good drummers. This old guy that doesn't play drums for a living, or even very often just for fun? He's a wannabe.

It seems to me that the drum circle has more potential than trying to play along with the stereo. The rhythm is in the room, in the group, not coming out of a machine. And the group can go anywhere with it, whereas the stereo just keeps going on the song that is playing at the time, until the song ends. The group's response is irrelevant to the stereo, but it is the very essence of the drum circle.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Plasma or LCD?

'Tis the question of the season.

The Halfwise household may well capitulate early in the new year, and buy a TV that is bigger than my stereo speakers. What a concept. I don't know if that's even legal. 42" wide space is all I have to work with.

Still ruminating over the decision of Plasma vs LCD. LCD has higher resolution, lower power consumption, lighter weight. Plasma has more contrast, generally faster response times. Most program sources can't make use of the higher resolution available on the LCD. Longevity is guaranteed with neither. Prices are comparable.

Any thoughts on this critical issue? Any brand names to avoid, or seek out?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Performance Appraisal Time

Companies like to have things on file about employee performance and plans for development. People like to know how they are doing. You'd think that these two forces would combine to create a mighty force for good.

It hardly ever works that way.

The worst systems are the ones that force people to be put onto a bell curve. It's not that employee performance does not fall onto a curve of some sort; of course it does. But the point is that the curve is irrelevant.

The reality of human beings working is that there are three different things they can be measured against:
  1. Their own potential contribution
  2. The requirements of the job
  3. The performance of their peers
The most basic thing is how well people do against the requirements of the job. I say that it's impossible to fit these results onto a curve in a really big organization where subjectivity enters the picture. The next most important thing is how people do against their own potential -- supervisors need to find ways to unlock and unblock the energy and satisfaction trapped inside their people.

The least important thing is performance against peers. Customers don't pay more for this kind of performance, they pay for performance against their requirements. And employees don't remain loyal to companies merely so that they can score higher than their peers. So why measure it? Simple answer - it enables the salary admin people to ascribe some sort of structure to how they hand out merit increases. Not a good enough reason.

Guess what? Most people think they are a little bit above average. Not superstars, and they could do even better than their actual performance. But a little above average. Why adopt a systems that forces supervisors to tell their people that on average, they are average? While it may be statistically true, it is not organizationally useful. Frankly, it pisses people off.

Lucky you, if you work in a place where the supervisor is allowed to tell you how you are doing against the requirements of the job, and is encouraged to figure out with you what could be done so that you can use more of your natural talents.

If you work for a force-fit-to-a-curve company, too bad. If you have employment choices, think about using them. Because if their HR policies are that short sighted, chances are their marketing and operational strategies are flawed too.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Don't blame Global Warming for London's Tornado

Tornados in Britain can be as powerful and destructive as the infamous twisters of Tornado Alley in the American Midwest.

In July 2005 Birmingham was struck by one of the most brutal tornados recorded in this country, with wind speeds estimated to have reached over 225km/h (140mph), which blasted out shop fronts, roofs were ripped off, buildings collapsed, more than a thousand trees were felled, and 19 people were injured. The damage was estimated at £39 million.

In 1954 another violent tornado appeared in west and northwest London. A huge thunderstorm drove in from the South Coast, the sky turned ink-black and a tornado touched down at Bushey Park, near Hampton Court, smashing down trees.

At about 5pm, the storm reached Chiswick, in West London, with a huge conical cloud hanging from the sky, green lightning flashing from its sides and a deafening roar like an express train. The tornado blew Gunnersbury station apart then demolished two factories and drove on through Acton, not far from BBC Television Centre, to Willesden, near Kensal Rise.

Roofs on houses were ripped off, chimneys crashed down and walls collapsed. A car was hurled through the air while terrified people outside ran for cover as bricks, glass and wood shot through the air like missiles. Newsreels of the day show a scene of devastation described as looking like something from The Blitz. In all this mayhem, it is incredible that there were only a few minor injuries.

The past few years have seen a number of notable tornados in Britain. However, there is no evidence that the number or intensity of tornados is rising here or elsewhere in the world, because of global warming.

Tornados in Britain

  • The highest death toll from one tornado in Britain was six, at Edwardsville, a mining town in Glamorgan, on October 27, 1913
  • Two people were killed in Guildford, Surrey, on August 2, 1906
  • On May 21, 1950, a tornado extended from Wendover, Buckinghamshire to Ely, Cambridgeshire, a distance of 68 miles (110km)
  • Selsey, in West Sussex, was hit twice, on January 8, 1998, when Patrick Moore’s telescopes were damaged, and again on October 30, 2000, when caravans were turned over at a caravan park. Selsey is particularly prone to tornados because it is downwind of the Isle of Wight which, like a rock in a river, helps to set up turbulence in winds from the South West
  • A tornado struck Boarhunt, a village in Hampshire, last month, throwing two ponies into the air and leaving a trail of wreckage. Sheds were flattened, trees uprooted and power lines came down. No one was hurt
  • Nineteen people were injured, three seriously, when a tornado ripped through the streets of Birmingham in July last year. The Met Office estimated the wind speed may have reached 130mph

Made-up names for clumsy tradesmen

I am not very good at certain tasks. One group of tasks falls under the banner "Finishing Carpentry". If I were to attempt to make my living as a Finishing Carpenter, truth-in-advertising rules would force me to change my name to Brad Puller.

If I were to try to make a living tuning musical instruments, I might do so using the name Miles Sharp.

Got any suggestions along these lines? Send 'em in.

Spider bites

There are a lot of choices a person can make, in terms of how to use his time. The ones that - in hindsight but not at the time - bother me the most, are the ones that were fascinating but completely useless.

At the current head of my list is Spider Solitaire. I have wasted hours on end playing this fool game. The lack of new postings on this blog is testament to what else I could have been doing.

It's made worse for me when the game keeps score of winning percentages. When I started playing Spider, I worked up to the Difficult level and managed to figure that game out. I quit playing it when I had managed a 16% winning percentage. But I couldn't stay quit, and wasn't happy with 16% either. Lately I fell back into playing and managed 35% over my last string of 100 games. Impressive, except that when you consider each game can take 10 - 15 minutes, that is a big piece of my life gone forever. And the previous Spider binge had been 3oo games.

Yeesh. Other time consumers in the puzzle and game area are FreeCell and Sudoku. I rationalize this as being good for my brain. It's true, just not good for my life.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I'm just wondering

... if unexpectedly warm weather is evidence of global warming, what cold weather is evidence of. It's been miserable here since before Hallowe'en. Today it was minus 22 degrees. And snowing!!

Ah well. A few years ago I made the switch to proper ice radials for winter driving. Big difference. I know that my stopping distances are better than with my so-called all season tires on, and the colder it gets, the more the tires help.

On the motor sofa the all-season tires are made by Kumho, which I switched to after doing some research. If I had to drive on just a single set all year round I might well stick with them, because they were on the car through the first couple of weeks of snowy roads.

Here in Alberta we don't need snow tires; the snow we get is almost always dry and loose. But what we get that the East doesn't get is packed down icy roads and weeks of cold temperatures where normal tires get hard and slippery. Bring on the Canadian Tire Nordic IceTraks!

Or Blizzaks, or whatever. But good old Crappy Tire does just fine. And what a hoot - I bought their cheap and drab black winter wheels and dressed them up with fancy plastic wheel covers! I felt like I was 17 again.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

7 weeks a suitcase can sure wrinkle the shirts.

Yes, the wayward suitcase has returned, having been to Kuala Lumpur while I was in Australia, then in Australia while I was in England, and finally here in Canada. Air Canada's toll-free baggage "service" phone number was worse than useless (when I was trying to get hold of the local baggage office to give them delivery instructions Air Canada said they could not communicate with their Edmonton office, but that I should send a message to the Edmonton people via Qantas!).

As it turns out, Qantas was hardly innocent in this misadventure either. First, they and Air Canada do not talk. This much is clear. Second, they sent the luggage back to Edmonton via Alaskan Airlines, but did not tell anyone why the luggage was on the plane. Had I not gone in person to Air Canada's baggage desk, and had them decipher the on line file, and walk down to the Alaskan baggage area behind the customs barrier, I might never have seen the bag again. Even though, I might add, it has my name and office phone number in 3 inch high print on the side of the suitcase.

All's well that ends well. But it intrigued me that the bag had been opened (the combination lock was at its open setting) yet everything was still there.

Just seriously, topographically, three dimensionally wrinkled.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Blog not dead!

I've been on the road for most of October - Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, then Dublin (Ireland), Manchester and York (UK). Just got home. Given that I live in Western Canada, you can perhaps understand that my head is still a bit gummy and wondering what time zone we're in today.

Good news: Melatonin works against jet lag. So does taking Nytol to force sleep.

Bad news: Air Canada or Qantas can make luggage completely disappear....and never come back. And then offer $10 per pound luggage insurance. That will replace a full suitcase, but not its, you know, contents. Clothes and shoes, and similar trivial things.

Good news: Business class on Qantas makes a 15 hour flight from LAX to Melbourne pretty bearable

Bad news: it costs 4 times what economy costs

Good news: Thomas Cook Airlines runs a decent charter between Calgary and Manchester, if you pick the premium cabin.

Bad news: Their on-time performance is pretty poor. AND they change departure times on you - read the fine print. We nearly missed our flight back to Canada because they moved it up by 2 hrs.

Good news: You can (= have to!) book a ferry boat from Holyhead to Dublin in advance, on line.

Bad news: The faster ferries get cancelled when the seas get rough.

Good news: Citroen makes a fantastic small car called the Picasso Xsara, available to rent in England. Fast, roomy, reasonably comfortable

Bad news: I have no idea how to pronounce Xsara, and if I did, it would probably sound like a stripper's name...

It's good to be home. Given all the things that could have gone wrong and kept us from getting home, that's a good thing.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Creative Zen the name brand of a very cool 1GB MP3 player. The model I own is a Creative Zen Nano, and it is about the size and weight of a Bic lighter. I wanted something that ran on a AAA battery, tiny, affordable, and with a built-in voice recorder as well as the MP3 player. iPods are fine, but this meets my needs better. I have about 400 tracks stored, many of which are symphony movements (so they run about 8-10 minutes). Easy to navigate, decent sound quality with the standard earbuds, and less than $90 including the arm strap and the belt clip.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

How to be a good husband

  1. If you got used to saying "Good night, Johnny" while turning off the bedroom TV during the Tonight Show, and now say the guy's name whenever you turn the TV off on some news anchor or performer, be careful with your words while turning off the TV during a Chubby Checker special.
  2. If your wife asks "Do these pants make me look fat?" the correct answer is NOT "No, it's not the pants."
  3. Most florists are willing to take pre-orders. Go in, sign some little cards, arrange some random dates on the calendar, and have them send your wife flowers on days when you have forgotten completely about it. This may make up for errors in execution on items 1 and 2.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Going under the knife

Not me, fortunately.

But the 280ce is going from the body shop, where all kinds of hidden rust locations have been discovered, to the mechanic, where the engine will be pulled, taken apart, and re-assembled with a few new parts (higher compression pistons for sure, new oil seals for sure, new rings of course, and perhaps a pair of Euro-spec camshafts to come from an English wrecker's yard).

Frank the Auto-body guy has repainted the wheels, rebuilt the rocker panels where the jack holes had rusted out, replaced one inner fender (the new part had to come from Germany), found and fixed endless amounts of rust BEHIND THE UNDERCOATING (curses!), dealt with numerous other random patches of rust, and pronounced the doors to be beyond salvation. I am still in search of good replacement doors. I may have to visit some Arizona autowreckers in person. Wow.

Sitting around the parts bin at the Halfwise House is a replacement Becker cassette radio to go where the Kenwood aftermarket unit currently sits, new heater fan control unit, new seals for the windshield and rear window (to be used whenever said glass must be replaced) and some side window seals.

I thought this would be an $8000 commitment, half to buy it, half to upgrade it. So far I am past $8000 even before we get to the mechanic. Fortunately, I am skilled at rationalizing. I have been instructing the guys at the body shop that their work needs to have a ten year life in mind, not simply some cosmetic cover-up. If I can get a daily summer driver out of this car, then I'm extending the life of the Motor Sofa by the equivalent amount. Or so I tell myself.

But, as a car guy, am I content to resign myself to not buy another car for ten years? Sure, I'll just buy cool cars for my wife. That should work!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Snappy answers to routine questions

How's it going?
  • I'm a hundred percent of something
  • Never better. (pause) That's the best part of memory loss
  • It's all good, except for the great parts
  • I wouldn't trade my worst problem for the world's average problem

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pithy thayings (3)

"We need to be on the same side of the table frowning at the problem, not on opposite sides of the table frowning at each other." Used when clients short-circuit the process of figuring out what went wrong, and reflexively blame the engineering contractor. Related to "Blame and shame", a management style much preferred by bullies.

A lot of project problems arise because the full team gets mobilized too soon, before we're well-enough organized. We need to be "in a hurry to finish, not in a hurry to start." The premature progress feels good at the time, but not so good when we have to give it back in rework later. Hence 'It's like warming the bed by wetting it."

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pithy thayings (2)

How long is a piece of string? "Long enough to reach both ends." Used when someone is trying to use a clever saying to get out of answering a question whose answer might be a little vague.

Said something you regret? "You can't un-ring that bell."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Pithy thayings

The reason this blog is called what it is called is this:

Over the years I have acquired a reputation as having a collection of sayings, things that summarize what is going on, often in a way that people have not heard before, and with a certain ironic humour to them. Look under the title of the blog. "What the hooker said about sex" is a fine example of the genre.

People say "You should write a book." I know people who have written books, and it's not as easy as it sounds. But a working title occurred to me, and that is how "Half Wisdom, Half Wit" was born.

I work in the engineering business, and we engineer projects that get built by construction companies. So a lot of my sayings revolve around what is happening in the project business. Some are original, some are borrowed/copied. All have their place, and, presumably, places where they do not belong.

Here are some favorites. I'll add to the list as time goes along.

"You can't make a baby in a month, even if you find nine friendly women". Used when we are tempted to try to speed things up by putting more people on a project. The rebuttal is: "Yes, but you can adopt one." Used when suggesting that there may still be other ways to solve the problem.

"The caboose blames the boxcar because the train is late." Used when construction blames engineering for the schedule having run out of time. Related to "The month you piss away at the start (because you didn't see the urgency) is the same month we have to make up working double shifts at the finish."

Which in turn is related to "Accordion Scheduling" where the start date moves but the end date is kept unchanged. "Mastercard project management". Used for describing cost reporting that has to wait for the actuals to come in to know how much has been spent.

Hardly knee-slappers, I know, and more useful to get people to recognize what is going on than for general hilarity and amusement. I still think Peter Drucker said it best: "The purpose of organizations is to enable common men to achieve uncommon things." Organizations work, for better or for worse, through and with the spirit of people, and the spirit responds to leadership. In my opinion the best leaders can identify with today's reality as experienced by "Danny Drafter" and can let Danny Drafter know that they have no illusions, but are not held back by current reality.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Is this real?

A rainbow trout fingerling peers out from the gullet of a northern pike at the Alaska Department of Fish & Game aquarium in Anchorage.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

One giant step for a man...

'Keeper crosses himself, attracts police warning

Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc
Celtic have asked for a meeting with police after goalkeeper Artur Boruc was cautioned for a breach of the peace during an Old Firm game at Ibrox.

Boruc was accused of making gestures during a game with Rangers in February, crossing himself.

The Crown Office said the procurator fiscal had issued the caution as an alternative to prosecution.

A spokesman explained that Boruc's actions "included a combination of behaviour before a crowd in the charged atmosphere of an Old Firm match."

The Polish goalkeeper's behaviour had "provoked alarm and crowd trouble."

The incident took place at the start of the second half of the game on 12 February.

Police investigated the complaints and submitted a report to the procurator fiscal.

The Crown Office said Boruc's behaviour had taken place before a crowd in the charged atmosphere of a match between Celtic and rivals Rangers. As such, it constituted a breach of the peace.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The "bacteria of stupidity"

A Gaza government spokesman has second thoughts
August 28, 2006

"When you walk in the streets of Gaza City, you cannot but close your eyes because of what you see there: unimaginable chaos, careless policemen, young men carrying guns and strutting with pride and families receiving condolences for their dead in the middle of the street."

This is how Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority government and a former newspaper editor, described the situation in the Gaza Strip in an article he published on Sunday on some Palestinian news Web sites.

The article, the first of its kind by a senior Hamas official, also questioned the effectiveness of the Kassam rocket attacks and noted that since Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip, the situation there has deteriorated on all levels. It holds the armed groups responsible for the crisis and calls on them to reconsider their tactics and to stop blaming Israel for their mistakes.

"Gaza is suffering under the yoke of anarchy and the swords of thugs," Hamad wrote. "I remember the day when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and closed the gates behind. Then, Palestinians across the political spectrum took to the streets to celebrate what many of us regarded as the Israeli defeat or retreat. We heard a lot about a promising future in the Gaza Strip and about turning the area into a trade and industrial zone."

Hamad said the "culture of life" that prevailed in the Strip has since been replaced with a nightmare. "Life became a nightmare and an intolerable burden," he said. "Today I ask myself a daring and frightening question: 'Why did the occupation return to Gaza?' The normal reply: 'The occupation is the reason.'"

Dismissing Israel's responsibility for the growing state of anarchy and lawlessness in the Gaza Strip, Hamad said it was time for the Palestinians to embark on a soul-searching process to see where they erred.

"We're always afraid to talk about our mistakes," he added. "We're used to blaming our mistakes on others. What is the relationship between the chaos, anarchy, lawlessness, indiscriminate murders, theft of land, family rivalries, transgression on public lands and unorganized traffic and the occupation? We are still trapped by the mentality of conspiracy theories - one that has limited our capability to think."

Hamad admitted that the Palestinians have failed in developing the Gaza Strip following the Israeli withdrawal and in imposing law and order. He said about 500 Palestinians have been killed and 3,000 wounded since the Israeli pullout, in addition to the destruction of much of the infrastructure in the area.

By comparison, he said, only three or four Israelis have been killed by the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip over the same period.

"Some will argue that it's not a matter of profit or loss, but that this has an accumulating effect" he said. "This may be true. But isn't there a possibility of decreasing the number of casualties and increasing our gains by using our brains and making the proper calculations away from demagogic statements?"

The Hamas official said that while his government was unable to change the situation, the opposition was sitting on the side and watching and PA President Mahmoud Abbas was as weak as ever.

"We have all been attacked by the bacteria of stupidity," he remarked. "We have lost our sense of direction and we don't know where we're headed."

Addressing the various armed groups in the Gaza Strip, Hamad concluded: "Please have mercy on Gaza. Have mercy on us from your demagogy, chaos, guns, thugs, infighting. Let Gaza breathe a bit. Let it live."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Where to find these

I wrote a while back about being seized by the notion that if I didn't buy THIS CAR, RIGHT NOW, there would never be another one, and I would have missed my chance forever.

This is just my mind being cruel. My friend Randy says that golf punishes the doubting mind, by making doubts come true immediately, on the very shot that provoked the doubts in the first place. But car buying is exactly the opposite. A rookie buyer (me! me!) falls in love with a vehicle, and has to have one. Now.

(Lord, give me patience, RIGHT NOW).

Once the purchase is made, some form of sanity returns. NOW we spend our time on forums and informative websites. NOW we start to amass a body of knowledge from others, things to know about the specific car
we just bought, things to know about the model or series that it belongs to, things to know about project cars in general.

The only thing I wish I had heard before I bought the Benz is the advice of the pre-eminent collector car guy in our office: Buy the one that has had the most spent on it, to the limit that you can afford. Makes sense, because car repairs are never recouped in the selling price. I didn't buy the cheapest one out there, but one of the cars that caught my attention is still for sale, at a price far higher than I felt like paying, but at a price that is lower than what I've committed so far, even before the engine rebuild.

Anyway, if you want to know where other 280ce models are for sale in North America, you could do worse than checking out the following links,

  1. Any Perhaps there is a global way to search all Craigslists, but I don't know how. Pick one in an area where cars last a long time, typically Arizona or California. Coastal BC is another one.
  2. This and most other links are easy to set up for repeated searching. Just enter "280ce" in the keyword field in the search engine, and hit enter. Next time you visit the site, double click on the keyword field and your previously used keywords all pop up, saving you the trouble of re-entering them.
  3. and Autotrader are affiliated but the content is slightly different.
  4. The site consolidates the Canadian newspaper ads from the Canwest chain.
  5. always has interesting vehicles
  6. eBay often has a listing or two. I also use eBay to research actual selling prices by searching Completed Listings.
  7. Benzworld has a marketplace forum where cars come up for sale. And in the W123 forum there are occasional sightings of interesting cars for sale, with links provided by forum members.
What have I learned from all these postings? Probably that I paid a fair price for my car, that people want anything from $1000 to $11,000 for these coupes, and that had I not bought the one that I did, there would have always been another one. But you couldn't have told me that two months ago...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

They don't make movies like this anymore...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Found it

Things look different from a satellite...

Google won't frame this picture just right, so please follow these instructions: Click on this link, and when the photo loads, look for the English lettering along the bottom. Place your cursor just 'north' of the L in TECHNOLOGY and double click. It should zoom in on a parking lot with green trucks and white cars in it.

The rectangular place on a slight angle just above the parking lot, with a flat grey roof with shadows near the top and bottom edge, is actually a "gai-jin man-shon" (gaijin mansion, or foreigner's apartment building). It housed 6 families in shoe boxes on two levels, each about 8 feet wide and 20 feet long. Entry was along the alleyway up from the narrow street just above the parking lot where the green and white vehicles are parked. $1800 US per month for rent, most utilities included. Yeesh. But what a great experience.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Somewhere in here is where I used to live in Tokyo. The place wasn't actually on a street, it was in the middle of the block. I'm trying to remember the walk from the station to the apartment, so I can get it exactly.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Worsening news

Back at Frank's today after he called to say that I should come look at something. The left front fender was off the car because he was worried about what he was finding behind it. The inner fender is as rotten as the outer fender is solid. It will have to be replaced completely. Grrrr. Finding one will be hard.

It's going to be October before this car is properly on the road, I am sure. A couple more weeks with Frank, then down to the mechanic for the engine rebuild and Out of Province Inspection. More like the Out of Pocket Inspection, methinks...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My favorite book, that I've never read

The Procrastinator's Handbook
The Procrastinator's Handbook by Rita Emmett (Paperback - Oct 2 2001)

Buy new: CDN$ 17.95 CDN$ 13.64 In Stock
Used & new from CDN$ 9.99
You save: CDN$ 4.31 (24%)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Frickin putter...

I played golf today, for the first time in weeks. Here's some good news: check out Swing Machine Golf for a really different, simple approach to the golf swing. I bought the book last year, and the video this year, and the guy teaches a simple, reliable and powerful way to hit the golf ball straight. Even if you don't practice or play much, like Halfwise, f'rinstance. Tee to green I was pretty respectable today.

What he doesn't teach is putting. Last year I woke up from a nap right in the middle of a golf infomercial for a newfangled putter. I bought it. Name will be suppressed (for about 3 seconds), but if anyone wants to buy it for way less than the infomercial price it's one of those Guerin Rife Two Bar jobs with the adjustable weights and I'm ok with selling it. Why? It's actually better than my old putter, EXCEPT WHEN I DON'T PRACTICE. I have played a zillion rounds with the old one. I have played maybe 5 rounds with this new one. Can I putt with it when I don't practice?


Golf. What a great game.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tolerance vs humility

Here is some provocative thinking. More can be found on Robert 'Gagdad Bob' Godwin's August 3 posting here:
In the past, I have written of religious perversions, of which Islamism is a particularly vivid example. However, political correctness, multiculturalism, victimology, and the counterfeit virtue of “tolerance” are similarly destructive spiritual perversions that cause just as much damage in the long run--perhaps even more, since the process is more subtle.

For example, the cognitively and spiritually bereft idea of multiculturalism causes Western intellectuals to honor totalitarians who embrace or condone polygamy, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, political autocracy, homosexual persecution, honor killings, female circumcision, and a host of other barbarisms.

At risk of pointing out the obvious, is it not clear that tolerance is hardly “humility” or “accurate self assessment?” Rather, it is a wildly inaccurate assessment of the obvious superiority of Western civilization over Islam and other primitive and tribal cultures. Tolerance is indeed (to paraphrase someone) “the virtue of the man with no convictions.” It is not humility but moral cowardice, and as such, opens up a free space for infrahuman bullies to operate unhindered.

Friday, August 04, 2006


...are the tiny goldmines of information to be found on the 'Net.

Want to know what color your Mercedes is officially called? And then want to order some touch-up paint in that exact color?

First go here:

This will give you the paint code. If you aren't sure, look on the hood tab. The paint code is found in the position where the digits 735 occur in this example:

Then go to the Paintscratch link, look up the year of your car, and you are there:

Thanks to Frank for starting me on this quest.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I lifted this photo from somebody else; my car looks a lot like this, but isn't around for me to photograph. How sad is that?

I had an interesting conversation on Monday.

There are two different mechanics who have been recommended for rebuilding the engine of the Benz. When I spoke with one he immediately asked whether I wanted the high-dome pistons that are found on the 185hp European spec engine, or the lower compression pistons that are standard for North American engines, ie what is in the car now that grunts out 145 hp.

All sorts of thoughts went through my head. First of course was the idea that 40 more hp was there for the asking. Then the cautious part of me took over and started wondering about the crankshaft, transmission, head gasket and other components that would have to put up with more hp, higher pressures, more torque and so forth. And the frugal part of me started wondering about whether the 91 octane gas around town would be enough, or whether I would have to start adding boosters. Heck, one of the reasons I wanted a post 1977 vehicle was so that I could be sure it ran on unleaded gasoline, so the idea of a car that knocks on premium was not that encouraging.

When I spoke with my other candidate mechanic, he figured he probably had a whole set of racing parts around somewhere, pistons, crank, camshafts and so forth, for this engine. But he wasn't sure, and he wasn't sure whether it was worth doing. He recalled raising the compression ratio on another 280 to 11:1 and it doesn't ping when using premium.

So I'm asking around about anyone who has experience rebuilding a North American spec engine to European spec. Parts would have to be bought, of course, but my fear is that something about the rebuild would leave me vulnerable to catastrophic and expensive mechanical failure, somewhere far from home.

OK, this car could turn from a hobby to a temptation to an obsession. Time to take deep cleansing breaths...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Don't be shy

In the last few days this little blog has seen a jump in visitors. Please feel free to leave a comment, even if it is just to tell me that in your opinion I have my head up my, uh, lower ring seal.
Good tip

The stages of 'project car' ownership

They say the stages of grief are shock, denial, anger and acceptance / capitulation, or something like that. I wonder if there is a reverse sort of sequence that first time buyers go through.

For me, the first stage was capitulation. Prior to that stage, there had been this lengthy period of 'wow, those are cool' feelings towards certain vehicles on the road. The feelings had staying power for only a small number of makes and models. And at some point, where the strength of the feelings and the budget to do something about them met, capitulation happened. I stopped staring, and started looking. Result: a rather used 280ce sold by someone who seemed happy to be rid of it.

Once a person starts looking, with intent to buy, a certain suspension of judgment happens. Its voice says "THIS IS THE ONLY CHANCE YOU WILL EVER HAVE TO BUY ONE!" and it sounds a bit like the voice that makes me pull out my 5 iron to aim between two trees when I've badly missed the fairway, instead of just chipping out sideways and settling for a bogey. The results aren't necessarily any prettier, either. This is more like greed/lust than anger, but in my limited catalog of feelings the two aren't that far apart on the page, in terms of their effect on my judgement.

Then, denial. Well, if not denial then a kind of grim perseverance in the face of evidence that would shock a person who hadn't first passed through the states of capitulation and 'gotta have it'. I had a budget, a sense of what I would pay to buy the car and then fix it up. In my budget (which was based on nothing whatsoever beyond wishful thinking) I figured a dollar in repairs for every dollar of purchase price. Having talked to two mechanics and a body man, I am now hoping to hold it down to TWO dollars in repairs for every dollar of purchase price. And I conveniently won't count things that didn't have to be changed out, but I changed them anyway...

The remaining stage in this reversal of the grief process has yet to become clear. Of course, I am probably weeks or months from experiencing it yet, so I don't know what it will be. I am aiming for a sense of contentment that THIS is a vehicle that fits who I am, that is fun for its own sake but still practical, that is different in a good way.

It's not about transportation. I've got transportation. The Motor Sofa eats up the miles with utter reliability, without fuss, with enough room to carry golf clubs and luggage for my lovely wife and me, and with a sound system that continues to impress. The Benz can't do all of those things, but I didn't buy it to give me what I already have. I bought it because it is a piece of art that no Toyota will ever be. It meets a need that no Toyota will ever meet. And it is the pull of that need that hauls me through those stages of capitulation, greed and denial, to that yet-to-be-labelled state of grace on the other side.

Friday, July 28, 2006

If I were buying another one of these...

I would look quite carefully at some things that I didn't look at the first time around.

I'm speaking of 25 year old Benz 280ce coupes, but these lessons are worth considering for other models as well.

I'm not saying that I wouldn't still buy the same car, but I might think about the price more carefully, or reconsider what my first-guess budget and timetable would have to be to put things right.

Frankly, mechanical repairs aren't a big deal. Yes, it will cost money, and parts may have to come from far away, but at the back of my mind is the thought that all of that is manageable. It's just an engine.

The car I bought has an excellent interior, and frankly, I would insist on that only because fixing an interior seems to me to be really hard. Parts, colours, textures, all that stuff is hard to get right, and you have to go a long way to find it, and maybe not everyone who is selling these things is in it to please you because they may never see you again.

Mechanicals, interior, what's left? The third thing is the car's body. What I have learned as Frank and I walked around the car he has had at his body shop for the last few days has been really interesting. Wish I'd known it before.

The car I bought looks sharp. It looks sharp because it has been repainted. It's not hard to repaint a car to look sharp to an untrained eye. If I'd been paying attention, I would have looked more carefully in a few key places:
  • In the engine compartment, on the inner fenders above and around the wheel wells. No one repainting a car is going to spend a lot of time in these locations, and you will see exactly what condition the repainted parts of the car were in before the paint job. Benz screws electrical devices to these surfaces, and the condition of the surface right around the parts that are screwed there is a great clue.
  • On my knees with the doors open, looking below the upholstered part of the door and above the weatherstripping. Rust lives there; painters may not paint there.
  • Below the trim strip on the side. Masking before the repaint job might be done less carefully than above the trim strip.
  • Along the base of the trunk lid. 280ce has a flat spot there that holds water. You can find out if there is rust just by looking at the trunk seal (or some parts of the door seal) because the black rubber will be discoloured.
  • In the well of the sunroof. My car is good there, but I can imagine many would not be.
I also have to conclude that one or both of my front fenders, which are rust free, are aftermarket parts. The front of the passenger side fender does not curve down exactly the same as the front of the hood. The difference is subtle, but once I noticed it I couldn't take my eyes off it. Kind of like if you chip a tooth, you can't leave the chipped place alone.

Anyway, Frank will do his stuff, and in a couple of weeks he'll be done. Then it's off to the engine guy, who will pull the mighty 2.8 l straight six out and lay it bare, at least renewing the seals and perhaps remachining the cylinders or maybe renewing the rings on the cylinders that are down slightly in compression.

And you know what? It feels good. My goal is to have this part of the journey done right. Stop the body from deteriorating, put the mechanical parts in order, enjoy the car for a long time. Ten years from now I still want this car to be good, a practical classic. No sense skimping now.

But, do you know anyone with a solid pair of coupe doors? That rust at the bottom is not good...

There is a fourth area after mechanical, interior and body: electrical. I don't know yet what shape all the electrics are in. All the important things worked. The switches and controls need regular attention because by design they are prone to getting dirty even if you drive the car every day. Parts aren't usually the problem, troubleshooting is the problem. I don't know enough about this car, yet, to know how good or bad its electrical system is, but I'm optimistic.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

MB 280ce links

The 280ce was built on the w123 chassis, which includes sedans, coupes and wagons, powered by gas and diesel engines. Here are some links that I have found interesting.

By no means do I endorse any, or imply that those that aren't listed here are inferior. Mostly, these are just places on the net that I've found in the last few weeks that I thought were worth bookmarking.

Parts: [good source of tips, too; parts prices aren't the lowest, though] [note, if you are e-mailing from his link, you may have to retype the hyphens in his e-mail address] [prices look lower than most]

Repair suggestions: [fix your seat using pool noodles!!] [lots of diesel info, but useful for gas models too because of all the parts they have in common]

Interesting reading:

All right, cat, get out...

...and STAY out!

Catch 22

It's like this. The insurance expires unless the car gets a license plate by Thursday. The license plate registration AND the insurance require an out-of-province inspection. The OPI requires some mechanical work. The mechanical work requires an actual mechanic, not just some middle-aged fool with a new Haynes manual, a fondness for eBay and a credit card. The mechanic is not where the car is now. Taking the car to the mechanic requires - you guessed it - insurance and a license plate.

I know, I know, I am supposed to arrange a TOW TRUCK to take this car, which I drove a thousand miles at high speeds through the mountains ten days ago, across town. Ain't gonna do it. On goes a plate from some other vehicle, away we go across town, off comes the plate when we get there.

Today, the car magically went from Al the mechanic's to Frank the autobody guy to get his opinion on what we need to do to make the skin and the frame last ten more years or so. And the plate came off when we got there...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Surgery required

Al the mechanic has prepared his diagnosis. Good news - the engine has good compression (but a couple of cylinders are down a bit), and the suspension is good. The bad news outweighs the good, though, as the oil leaks are so many and so bad that the engine needs to come out and be taken apart to fix them. That was something that I knew was possible when I bought the car because it had been sitting for a while.

So naturally I asked about who could do such a rebuild, and Al gave me the name of an old guy on the north side of town, and I shall be delivering SS into his care in August, not expecting to see either Chris (the old guy) or SS for several weeks. During that time he will refurbish the engine, transmission, exhaust system, parking brake and air conditioning.

SS will sit dripping morosely in my garage for a couple of weeks as Chris works through the backlog caused by his hired mechanic taking summer vacation. Then it's over to Chris's for surgery.

I have decided to do this right, which could mean a complete tear-down if necessary
to refinish the cylinders. SS will not run much until the fall, methinks.

While the car is waiting in my garage I will get at the sunroof drains and the seat repair, just to get those out of the way, and perhaps I can have the condition of the body assessed by a professional. The jack holes are looking suspiciously rusty, for instance, and if I want to be able use them I'd better be making sure they are reinforced.

I will also try my hand at odometer repair. I read an account of this at and concluded that the worst that could happen is a car that is not running, whose odometer is not working, could become a car that is not running, and whose odometer has been removed and either discarded or set aside in small, ungovernable pieces. There are worse outcomes.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Delayed gratification

If someone could be pleased only by delayed gratification, and you immediately offered it, would that be good or bad?

This is Silber Schnabel (bad German for Silvernose). I would rather be driving SS than taking pictures, or writing about it.
With any luck, SS will be licensed and on the road (legally) this week. I can hardly wait! There are things that are needed to make SS better, but the number one thing SS needs is to be driven and enjoyed. OK, I guess that's two things.

One man's opinion...

Doesn't the situation in Lebanon seem full of inconsistencies? From a Canadian perspective, it bothers me greatly that there were 40,000 or 50,000 so-called Canadians there, holding dual citizenship and complaining bitterly about how long the Canadian government took to get them out of a country of which they are citizens by birth.

Hezbollah took over the southern part of Lebanon, and established itself openly as a military force outside the control of the Lebanese government, and attacked a neighboring country. Not a new story, and Hezbollah (meaning the "army of God") denies Israel's right to exist.

If a person chooses to vacation in Hezbollah's territory, he or she should do so with eyes open. But it's worse: the 40,000 Canadians in Lebanon aren't there on vacation, by and large, they LIVE there. The Canadian passport is just a convenience, a ticket to another place to live if the Lebanon gig goes bad. They aren't paying taxes in Canada, they just hold Canadian passports because it's handy, an escape hatch. Show up in Canada after not being here for 10 years and we'll pay your health care and find you a place to live and all that stuff. I bet 85% don't pay Canadian taxes or even vote.

But if the Canadian government is too slow to show up, or the boat is crowded, or the ocean is rough, then it's off to the nearest reporter to complain about the shabby treatment. The reporters aren't digging into the story at all, either, to find out the relationship between these people and Canada.

If running the country were left to the most-quoted people in our society, Canada would degenerate into the world's doormat.

Israel, on the other hand, knows that it has to take care of itself. I could suggest that bombing airports or power plants is a bad thing, but surely it is a matter of opinion as to what constitutes an appropriate response when attacked by the Army of God whose objective is to wipe you out. This conflict won't go away until the Arab world accepts Israel's right to exist and polices itself when extreme Arab factions attack Israel. Until the Arab world shows that it is willing to protect Israel, no one should criticize Israel for protecting itself, however it sees fit.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Isn't CarFax cool?

I took a month's subscription to CarFax and ran the VINs of every car in the Halfwise fleet, and some that I've owned or come close enough to owning that I had the VIN. SS came through just fine. The other coupe in the lower mainland has at least 80,000 more km than the odometer shows, and consistently failed the Air Care inspection in the 1990s. In addition, the guy who is selling it today is claiming about 10k less mileage than it had two years ago. There were other reasons that I had steered clear of buying from him, and this just confirms them. $25 well spent. Got any VINs you need run? Let me know, as I have a couple more weeks left on the subscription.

The Motor Sofa is fine, as is Mr. M. The solid little Sentra that I bought for my mother-in-law last year actually has 100,000 more km than the odometer said at the time, but right there on CarFax is every dealer service event the car had for 10 years, which is of some consolation because the car was clearly taken care of. Nissans that I have owned in the past have run well into the 260s, and this one seemed solid when I bought it and passed all kinds of inspections, but I doubt I would have bought the thing had I known its true mileage. Heck, ignorance CAN be bliss.

But running the CarFax report cured me of wanting to head down to Vancouver to buy that other coupe. It's still for sale, just $2500 according to the latest ad I've seen. And it already has Euro headlights, so you're at least $250 ahead, if that's the look you want...

Visiting privileges would be nice

Wouldn't it be nice if I could pop over and spend some quality time with the car? But I don't have a key. I need to check whether the crack in the windshield is all the way through to the inside, which would cause it to fail the inspection, or whether it's on the outer layer only. I'd like to open the car up because of the heat, and let it continue to air out a bit. It smells strongly of old leather, which is fine, but a little strong.

Meanwhile the accumulation of spare parts and restoration necessities continues. I have ordered new rubber for around the windshield, side windows and rear window. A pair of Euro Headlights is en route, as are instructions and tools for tuning up the sunroof and renewing the padding in the driver's seat.

A nagging desire to buy that other coupe in the lower mainland has not left me yet. I don't actually NEED either car, but having yielded to the desire to buy one, and not yet being certain of whether SS is going to be great in the long run, a little voice is telling me to call the guy back and give him the money. Easy, Halfwise, easy boy. Wait for Al's report, and then decide whether you bought an expensive parts car or a cheap classic...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The saga of Silber Schnabel continues

The coupe has spent most of its early days in Edmonton at Al the mechanic's. Al is a former Benz dealer mechanic who now runs his own place, which fortunately is located about a 4 minute walk from my office. Silber Schnabel (SS for short) disgraced himself by dumping the better part of a quart of oil on Al's floor overnight, not a good sign. Al has a couple of vehicles in the shop and is planning to go on vacation shortly for three weeks. I am hoping to get the oil leaks under control, and a condition report, before he is gone. Then I need an out-of-province inspection done by a licensed independent facility before I can put the plates on and drive around looking like a plain old guy in a handsome old car.

I have to say that there are a lot of resources on line for an owner of an older Benz. is a gateway to all sorts of useful information, and eBay is only the tip of the iceberg as far as parts are concerned.

Today I went looking for a locksmith who carries the key blanks so that I could duplicate the one set that came with SS. I'm willing to leave a set with Al so that I can drop the car off when he's not there. Fortunately, the 200 series and the 300 series after require keys that can be readily cut, not the higher security ones that came with more recent models. But the key blanks are getting harder to find, apparently, and with some takeovers and mergers in the key business the old reference numbers sometimes no longer apply, so the guy may have the right key but doesn't know it unless he peers at every key blank on his board. I'm here to tell you that the locksmiths with bifocals are going to develop serious neck problems.

Looking forward to getting SS back home, better able to hold his liquids...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Got one

Announcing the arrival of Silber Schnabel into the Halfwise household. Condition at arrival:
  1. Interior very good (blue leather, no tears, dashboard excellent, carpets good, driver's seat needs some new padding)
  2. Electrical very good, with all windows, sun roof, lights and minor accessories working, but cruise control guilty of independent thinking
  3. Exterior good (no visible rust, original paint, some rust can be found just getting started at base of trunk lid, bottom of doors, right behind rear wheels)
  4. Mechanically strong but needs some attention (oil leak front seal and/or oil pan, a/c DOA, odometer untrustworthy)
Had a great run back from the coast, with the car getting stronger the more I drove. Stopped after 100 miles and had the wheels balanced, which really helped. Reached 160 km/hr passing a semi, cruised happily at 130.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Might have found one

The search is narrowing in on a couple of cars in the Lower Mainland. Not much money is needed to buy them, but I understand that rather a lot is required to keep them on the road and looking good. We'll see where this leads us to.

The 280 series has been called 'the last real Mercedes'. Of course, people can call things whatever they want. Me, I'm looking for a practical classic, a car with robust engineering and a certain degree of rarity. Not so rare that parts can't be found, but rare enough to earn a second glance and make people muse 'you don't see many of those around'.

Ideally, the car won't be dangling from a tow truck at the time...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I am looking for one of these...

One like this 1977 Mercedes 280CE but with European bumpers and headlights, no rust, like the little photo.

Monday, June 19, 2006


The Oilers lost game 7 to the Hurricanes, ending an amazing playoff run.

The playoffs require a combination of endurance, luck, talent, grit, and most of all mental toughness. The Oilers showed all of these, and excited a city that knows how to appreciate what a great gift hockey is to our society.

The final series showed both teams at their best and worst, and the swings of emotion and momentum were remarkable. The lesson for me was that commitment and desire and talent are not enough for peak performance; there is another element, a spirit of performance that comes and goes, but which rests on the winning team more than on the losers. Congratulations to the Hurricanes, of course, but congratulations also to the Oilers who have begun a mighty journey as a team.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Internet + Cheap Flights = No Assimilation

ONE of Britain's most senior military strategists has warned that Western civilisation faces a threat on a par with the barbarian invasions that destroyed the Roman empire.

In an apocalyptic vision of security dangers, Rear Admiral Chris Parry said North African pirates could be attacking yachts and beaches in the Mediterranean within 10 years. Europe could be undermined by growing immigrant communities with little allegiance to host countries -- a "reverse colonisation" as Parry described it.

These groups would remain closely connected to their homelands via the internet and cheap flights. The idea of assimilation was becoming redundant, he said.


A conundrum for some

This recent arrest of alleged terrorists in Canada is going to cause some people to hurt themselves trying to square the circle of their own thinking. The people I have in mind have elevated "Tolerance" to the highest moral level, and yet it is this very tolerance that seems to attract the hostility of terrorists. What to do? What to do?

Uncritical embracing of all belief systems as being equal is doomed for the basic reason that it can't be true. If all beliefs are created equal, what do you do with the system that says YOUR system is inferior? It's an obvious Gotcha. And if you accept the right of believers to criticize your system, where do you draw the line? And if your system doesn't actually stand FOR anything, what do you draw the line with?

Everyone believes in something. Those who claim to be atheists, or even pantheists for that matter, may deny that there is a God of the universe, but they express beliefs about the true nature of existence and man's role in it that are as coherent as Christianity, only without the omnipotent divine element. Concepts of good and evil, mercy and cruelty, right and wrong exist, but conveniently without any moral consequences, merely natural outcomes. That's fine, but much of the human experience is left unexplained when the explainer's world lacks a divine force.

Me, I am a practising Christian who was a vigorous atheist for many years. I think Christianity explains plenty of things about the world and my place in it. But I am just as convinced that the gap between God and Man is greater than the gap between Man and, say, Cat. My cats have ideas about me, how I think in certain situations, what I can and can't do, how I fill my day. And I in turn have ideas about God, how He thinks in certain situations, what He can and can't do, how He fills his day, or His Eons. And while I am content with the coherence of my ideas about God, they are no more likely to be true than my cats' ideas about me.

So before I go telling someone that they are wrong and I am right about religion, I will think how smart the smartest cat is about me, and I will be silent. But I would expect anyone else who is prepared to act against me in the name of his religion to reconsider and then stop, based on the same thinking. And I applaud those who are vigilant in revealing and ending organized attempts by any persons who, in the name of their God, would seek to impose their cat-brained ideas on the rest of the world.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Naoki Honjo -- The Metropolis in Miniature"


News photo

Naoki Honjo's photographs have sparked off a wave of imitations. Taken either from a helicopter or a skyscraper with a tilt-shift lens, they depict the urban landscape as though it were a miniature model. A number of articles published online have explained how to use techniques in Photoshop to create the effect in photographs taken with standard lenses. The copycat images broadly produce the same results, but they come across as gimmicks, somehow lacking any sense of the artist's original vision, because Honjo's work is more than just model photography.

In the exhibition at Aoyama Book Centre, which follows his recent show at the Good Design Company, an image of a tiny helicopter taking off from a port reminds the viewer that it is the real world that he is photographing and not just a still-life made of plastic. Finding it strange how much we take for granted surroundings which have been built by people we do not know, Honjo aims to express a "sense of falseness" about the cities we live in. The bird's eye view creates a strong sense of detachment from life at ground level, and the toylike miniaturization of the city makes the urban infrastructure appear incredibly fragile.

Spectator recovering after being hit by cheese

ROCKWORTH: Twenty-five people were injured yesterday at an annual cheese-rolling competition in which daredevils chase giant cheese wheels down a steep slope in western England.

Dozens took part in the bizarre event at Cooper's Hill in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, before a crowd of about 3000 cheering spectators.

They raced for 200m down the slope after wheel-shaped Double Gloucester cheeses, decorated in a blue and red ribbon.

Many slipped, somersaulted and tumbled their way to the bottom during five bone-crunching races over two hours.

Of the 25 people hurt, 12 were spectators, one of whom was hit by one of the hard, 4kg, dinner-plate-sized cheeses used in each race, but only two people were taken to hospital for further assessment.

The organisers said the number of injuries was comparatively low. "We usually average around 30 to 40 people who need treatment," said Jim Jones, operations training manager for St John Ambulance.

"The most serious injuries this year appear to be a dislocated finger and a possible fractured ankle."

The wet weather helped protect the racers, as they were able to slide down the slope rather than tumble head over heels.

Among the winners of the five races was Chris Anderson, 18, who knocked himself out to claim the title.

Afterwards, the dazed window fitter said: "I just ran, fell and hit my head. I feel sore but it was definitely worth it."

First prize in each race is a big circle of cheese.

More reasons not to panic over scary climate models

LONDON: Almost 50 million years ago, the North Pole was as warm as a balmy summer's day, research shows.

Studies of sediment core samples from the sea bottom reveal that long before the pole froze it was covered with floating ferns and the water on the surface of the Arctic Ocean was 23C or higher, equivalent to today's subtropical seas.

Scientists have had to reassess their understanding of the region because previously it was thought to have frozen only 15million years ago. Sea ice, however, started forming 45million years ago.

The findings were made during analysis of 430m of sedimentary core drilled from the Arctic seabed in 2004.

The core, the subject of three studies published in the journal Nature, provides scientists with a geological record of the region dating back 57 million years.

The Arctic Ocean was, 50million years ago, a basin largely surrounded by land, which meant that much of the surface consisted of fresh or slightly brackish water. [HALFWISE NOTE: What does this tell us about sea levels, with no ice around?]

Such conditions, combined with global warming, allowed the azolla fern to grow in floating mats over a period lasting 800,000 years.

Today most azollas grow in freshwater ponds, canals and rice fields in tropical and subtropical regions and their presence near the North Pole "suggests a substantial rise in Arctic sea surface temperature to subtropical or tropical levels".

During the warmest period, the surface of the Arctic Ocean was up to 33C warmer than it is today. At this time, 55 million years ago, "temperatures peaked near 24C, which is notably higher than previous estimates", the international team of scientists reported.

Such high temperatures conflict with previous models, which estimated that the surface would have been 10-15C while assuming that carbon dioxide levels were at 2000 parts per million -- today's level is 381ppm.

"This suggests that higher than modern greenhouse gas concentrations must have operated in conjunction with other feedback mechanisms," the scientists said.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Good news for the Big Perogy! Posted by Picasa

Oilers to the Final! Posted by Picasa

Sunday, May 21, 2006

German beer helps injury patients grow new spare hands from their heads. Brewmasters are working on perfecting the recipe to create both left and right hands...
Posted by Picasa

Legally it's not actually beer

It was almost sacreligious. Fans crowding the stadiums for the 2006 World Cup would be limited to only one brand of beer to wet their whistles -- Budweiser, the product of US brewery Anheuser Busch.

Bud's owners had laid down $40 million for the rights to be one of the World Cup's main sponsors, and in return, were given a monopoly on beer sales in the World Cup stadiums.

While Budweiser might be a top seller in the US, in Germany -- renowned for the variety and purity of its brews -- Bud is looked down on with scornful disdain. It's watery and lacks any "kick," say those who know what real beer should taste like. In fact, since its recipe includes rice, it doesn't actually qualify as a beer under German law. For German soccer fans, things were looking grim.

Bitburger saves the day

But politicians and breweries refused to accept defeat, and eventually the head of marketing at German brewery Bitburger emerged triumphant. Bitburger has signed an agreement with Anheuser Busch that will allow its brand of pilsner to be sold alongside Budweiser.

The ace up Bitburger's sleeve? Years ago, the brewery had obtained a court ruling in its favor forbidding the advertising of Budweiser in Germany because there was a danger that German consumers would confuse "Bit" with "Bud."

Bitte, ein Bit!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

No worries - Bibles banned in Queensland hospitals

Bibles have been banned from hospital bedsides in Queensland because health bosses fear they will offend non-Christians. The controversial move has outraged religious leaders, who have branded the decision "multiculturalism gone mad".

Hospitals in Brisbane are among the first to stop the Gideons testaments being left in patients' bedside tables. Staff said the Bibles were no longer in keeping with the "multicultural approach to chaplaincy", while some claimed the Bibles were removed because they were a source of infection.

Royal Brisbane chaplain John Pryce-Davies said: "We used to keep Bibles in patient's lockers but multiculturalism kicked in and we had to remove them. Now we only provide Bibles when they are requested by people and Gideons no longer have permission to deliver their Bibles. Our policy is that when a patient leaves hospital they return the Bible to us or take it home with them - we don't want them left in the lockers. That way, other faiths don't have to worry about finding a Bible there."

Hospital spokeswoman Tanya Lobegeier said: "If someone has a cold or anything and uses the Bible their germs could be passed on to the next person who reads it. No one wants to go in the drawer to clean a Bible after every single person leaves."

Princess Alexandra spokeswoman Kay Toshach said Bibles were available only on request. "We don't have Bibles by the bedside because of the issue of cleaning, and possibly that they may not be in keeping with the multicultural society we are in now," she said.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Do NOT try this at home Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The gravity of praying in space

How will Muslims perform their religious duties in space? The question appears simple enough, but it has earth-shattering implications for Islam. The future of the Muslim civilisation, or rather what's left of it, depends on appropriate answers. Hence the summons to the great and the good of the Muslim world from Malaysia's National Space Agency. The agency hosted a special conference in the past week to address this all-important but hitherto neglected question.

The inquiry has acquired some urgency. Malaysia is about to send its first astronaut into space. In a reciprocal deal, which required Malaysia to purchase a handful of Sukhoi SU-30MKM jet fighters, the Russians have agreed to send one Malaysian to the International Space Station (ISS) next October.

Malaysians are nothing if not far-sighted. They like to do things in spectacular fashion, and they like to do them before anyone else. They were the first to think of building the longest flagpole in the world. It is still standing, with its record intact, in Merdeka Square, Kuala Lumpur. They were the first to think of building the longest bridge in Asia. Penang Bridge is holding on to that record, although it has faced a disaster or two since it opened in 1985. They went on to erect the tallest building in the world: the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which opened in 1998. Sadly, that triumph was short-lived. Taipei 101 took the record to Taiwan in 2003. So they turned their attention to Mount Everest: unfortunately, it had already been climbed, yet that didn't stop the cunning Malaysians from claiming a record or two. Now they have turned their gaze towards space.

But here, too, they have been beaten. The first Muslim in space, alas, is not going to be a Malaysian. That record has already been set by Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia, whose full name and titles are longer than the shuttle Discovery, which took him into space in 1985.

The annals of Muslim history record that Prince Sultan, who took a copy of the Koran with him, faced a number of vexing questions. From space, where was Mecca, the direction he had to face during his five daily prayers? Given that the timing of prayers is guided by the position of the sun - sunrise, noon, late afternoon, sunset and evening - how were these times to be determined in space, where the sun was either fully in the open or totally hidden? And how was he going to bow and prostrate himself in zero gravity?

The good prince turned to the most prominent religious authority in the kingdom: Sheikh bin Baz. He was blind, and believed that the earth was flat. The question of prayer in space, he answered, does not arise, because nothing can leave the earth. That was that. So while we still have pictures of Prince Sultan talking by telephone to his uncle the late King Fahd, eating halal food that had been specially prepared for him, giving a guided tour of the space shuttle in God's own language, Arabic, and even reading the Koran, we have no record of him praying.

Step forward the Malaysians, who never do things by half. We cannot send our astronauts into space, says Professor Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman, director general of the National Space Agency, without full answers to this perplexing question. She has calculated that the ISS will circle the earth 16 times in 24 hours, which means that there will be 16 "days" and 16 "nights" within every 24-hour period. Does this mean that the poor Muslim astronaut has to perform prayers 80 times every 24 hours? Moreover, she asks, how will the astronaut perform ablutions, with water behaving erratically under zero gravity?

From here, the problems of fulfilling one's religious duties in space get even thornier, I am afraid. Before you can undertake your ablutions, you are required to do what is technically known in Islamic parlance as istanja. Or, to use the more colourful but easily understandable language of the Channel 5 medical drama House, "you have to clean your arse after you have pooed". For religious purposes and for all-round cleanliness, tissue paper just won't do.

Purity can be restored to the body only by means of a full and generous application of water. But how does one perform the istanja, as the London-based Muslim Weekly rightly asks, "with globules of water floating around randomly"? What happens if we have a group of Muslim astronauts in space? How will they pray in congregation? How will they stand shoulder to shoulder, and bow and prostrate in unison? They could end up in embarrassing positions, with some facing up and others facing down . . . whichever way up and down happen to be in space, with the direction of Mecca changing all the time! And what happens during the month of Ramadan? How will they fast, and for how long? The more questions you ask, the more daunting the difficulties become.

This is why some favour the Sheikh bin Baz option. He may have been blind, but he could see that God did not intend Muslims to go into space - or He, in His Infinite Mercy and Wisdom, would have equipped them with suitable biological apparatus.

[adapted from a column by Ziauddin Sardar in Malaysia Today]