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Wednesday 23 July 2008

Attitude towards bikes [Slim]

I'm on a bit of a consumer mission to buy a new bike (bicycle, not a broom broom). I've been walking to work for the last year or so, but now that I'm close to me target weight, I've been cycling a bit to increase the range and get a change of pace and scenery. Typically UK male, I can't just buy a bike, I have to buy mags, search websites, read reviews, find the very best price, agonize over the decision, change my mind, read forums, blah blah. Realistically, my 10 year old mountain bike is probably fine, it's a bit heavy, and a lot rattly, but it does the job. I want a carbon fibre grippy screaming fanny magnet though, with all the gear!So it amused me to read this thread:Commuting tipsWacky innit? They use bikes like a million percent more than us, the bikes are absolutely everywhere, but seem to care not a jot about the machines, they just get on with it. Wonder what happened to produce such a significant shift in attitude? Is it because they're workhorses rather than sports/recreation items? Could be, but then you could say the same about cars, and people buy flashy cars to commute in.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Map My Stuff [Spiny]

Found a nice Google maps mash up site - Map My Ride. It lets you plot cycle routes, tells you distances etc. For a small fee it will do a fancy print but I've not found the need for that so it's basically free. I think you will also use GPS data but I don't have one of those just yet.

The handy thing I found was it puts markers every mile on the map you draw, which is nice for navigation.

I did a loop today which turned from 23 to 30 miles, due to some creativity in the navigation department... although I found a nice pub in the process :)

Friday 11 July 2008

The Sanctity Of Biscuits [DrDave]

I often hold up the Catholic church as an example of rational, modern religious organisation. They're down with evolution, have a good take on science in general and even occasionally say some sensible stuff about the bible. Oh sure, there's the whole contraception, women's rights, gay rights, abortion and original sin baggage, but on the whole they're pretty progressive for a Christian sect.

Then something like this happens, and you realise that they're just as batshit mental as the average jihad spouting Muslim. To cut a long story short, US student, Webster Cook, smuggled a piece of the Eucharist - a holy biscuit - out of mass to show his mate. He subsequently returned it, but this wasn't enough to appease the holy rollers. Now Cook is receiving death threats.

"We don’t know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was," said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. "However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it."

As you might expect, having had their biscuit kidnapped, the Catholics were incensed:

"It is hurtful," said Father Migeul Gonzalez with the Diocese. "Imagine if they kidnapped somebody and you make a plea for that individual to please return that loved one to the family."

I'd feel the same if someone tried to steal my custard creams and, like the Diocese, I'd probably bring in some of my toughest mates to protect my confectionary in the future:

The Diocese is dispatching a nun to UCF's campus to oversee the next mass, protect the Eucharist and in hopes Cook will return it.

An amusing storm in a teacup. Anyway, outspoken biologist and blogger PZ Meyers heard about this and, in true PZ style, blogged about it. It wasn't a very sympathetic blog, it was a tongue in cheek look at a massive over-reaction. Though, as usual, PZ goes one step too far, promising that if someone would send him some holy wafer:

I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare ... will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart.

Tsk, naughty atheist. Well anyway, the whole thing has gone global now and the US Catholic League has got hold of it and are calling for PZ's immediate dismissal.

Right, the serious part. I don't actually condone either Webster Cook's stealing of the Eucharist, or PZ's subsequent mockery of the Eucharist either. I think both were a little childish and ill-considered, and PZ is rapidly defining himself as being just as rabid and frothy as those he seeks to ridicule these days. But the point of the story is this: Catholics actually believe that the Eucharist wafer is the body of Christ.

This isn't some metaphorical, religious ceremony. They actually do believe that the transubstantiation is real and that they are literally consuming flesh. In that context, what looks like a ridiculous over-reaction takes on a slightly more understandable, if depressing, light. In fact, if you read around a little, you see that "host desecration" is about the worst thing that a Catholic can do. Webster Cook and PZ Meyers can probably think themselves lucky they didn't live in the middle ages:

The first recorded accusation was made in 1243 at Berlitz, near Berlin. As a consequence all the Jews of Berlitz were burned on the spot

I reckon I'd be pissed if someone stole my hob nobs, but burning every Jew in town seems a little... heavy handed. But that's the point, they don't believe they're losing a biscuit, they actually believe they're losing a chunk of the big JC - the obvious implication of this is that they actually believe they're eating, and subsequently shitting, a chunk of the big JC, but they don't tend to dwell on that much.

Maybe I'm missing something, maybe there's a hidden depth and use for religious ceremonies like this, but I can't see it. To me, this seems like a meme that probably started off 2000 years ago as something useful, but which has gradually mutated over the centuries into something ridiculous. And that those practising the rite don't see how inane it is because they've been indoctrinated from birth into believing there's a point to it, that there is a kind of holy biscuit that turns into flesh in their mouth.

Whatever the case, I know I'll think twice before scoffing a ritz cracker from the buffet table at the parish social.

Monday 7 July 2008

Freeware! [Slim]

Fixed up a bust laptop for the nippers, it's not a bad thing, athlon 64, x700 graphics card so it can do games and stuff. Made a real efford to load it up with freeware type stuff just to see how far I can go, and the end result is so impressive, I'd like to share it.Apps:Firefox 3 with Addblock and Procon Latte. The latter is a very smart filter that searches the text on websites and google results and blocks it if its norty. Also allows you to set up white or blacklists. Artrage: Nifty art programme that simulates paint and stuff, they love getting messy with this. Dia: Basically a light open sourced visio, great for doing little diagrams for school stuff.Games Maker: Nifty little app that lets you make your own games. This is really for the older one (11), and she finds it pretty challenging, but its cool.Open Office: They use google docs for word processing, but the presentation stuff's weak and there's no drawing tools. Open Office has those and they're pretty good. They can also prep stuff that's a bit richer in open office, then upload it to google docs for access at school. Bitmap package, a photoshop light, and bloody brilliant. Particularly good for photo shit. Scratch: Smalltalk based scripting thing that's geared towards making interactive stories and other procedural creations. Ace visual introduction to programming that can be very simple or pretty advanced. Scribus: Open source desk top publisher. Remarkably powerful, can use pdf files to printing standard. Nice for party invites and school newsletters, etc.GamesNow the fun stuff! De Blob: Started life as a student project, and is now getting a full commercial release on teh wii. The original PC version is free though, and ace for kids. It's a bit like Katamari, you roll a blob around and have to paint a town by absorbing the colour from it's residents. Weird, but ace.LinCity: Freeware Sim City, doesn't need any introduction surely?Ocular Ink: Roll an eye around using the mouse, and paint lines to attack things. Kind of like okami a bit? Anyway, ace.Secret Maryo Chronicles: Another Super Mario Bros rip off, but a very well done one. Crayon Physics: Draw things with a crayon, move the red ball. Pretty basic tech demo for an upcoming game, but loads of fun and the kids love it. Very smart 'what if i.... type game that's perfect for kids'.Knytt Stories: Looks like a very basic and abstract platform game, but elegently simple and highly enjoyable for all ages. Comes with a nice level designer too, which the kids enjoy.