Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Tuesday, 29 April 2003

# 7:25 AM

package delivery annoyances

I bought two gadgets on E-bay last week. One of them was sent by ordinary mail, and showed up in my P.O. box on schedule. The other one was sent UPS. UPS somehow got hold of what they thought was my street address, and tried to deliver it there. Except they had it wrong. So some random Berkeley resident got the "we missed you" notice and I had to call UPS and get them to reschedule the delivery and correct the address.

There are three separate problems here. The first is getting the package delivered properly. I am not confident that they have the address right now. If it doesn't show up tomorrow I'm going to have to go to the depot in Richmond and retrieve it, which I do not have time for. The second problem is that someone gave UPS the wrong street address and I need to find out who it was.

But the third problem, and this is the problem I'm most peeved about, is that I don't want packages delivered to my street address. I want packages delivered to my P.O. box. That was one of the main points of getting it; it was supposed to mean that packages would be delivered to a location where there's a guy whose job it is to wait around for UPS all day, and I could go get it at a time convenient to me. UPS claims that they are not allowed to deliver to P.O. boxes, which is (a) ridiculous, and (b) if true, the Postal Service should have that in big red letters at the top of their "is a P.O. box right for you" flyer. Which they do not. In fact, not one word is said about package delivery companies not being able to deliver to P.O. boxes.

Problem 3a is that I did not provide E-bay with my street address, because, once again, I don't want packages delivered there. So where did UPS get the (incorrect) street address? Whoever they are, they need certain things explained to them, with the aid of an implement suitable for breaking kneecaps.

Sunday, 27 April 2003

# 10:25 PM

kitchen observations

I was doing the dishes and I noticed that, as I removed dishes from the sink (which had been completely filled with water) the water level was only barely dropping. The dishes had taken up the entire sink — could it really be that their true volume was so small? So I made some measurements. Assuming the sink to be a perfect rectangular prism (it isn't, but measuring the deviations would be too much trouble), its upper surface is 54x44=2376 cm2. Removing all the dishes from the sink made the water level drop two centimeters, so that's a volume of 4752 cm3, or 4.75 Liters, or (for those of us who've a better intuitive sense for old-fashioned English units) 1.2 gallons. Which is not so small, really.

For comparison, the total volume of the sink is 54.6 liters (14.4 gallons — roughly the capacity of my car's gas tank) and rinsing all those dishes consumed 33.2 liters of water (8.8 gallons).

small world

Last week, over on bIPlog, there appeared a filk of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, going by the title Revolution is not an AOL Keyword.

The author: a gentleman by the name of Eddan Katz, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley's law school. Which happens to be the name of someone I went to high school with; in fact, for awhile he was my carpool driver. A bit of Googling strongly suggests that they are the same person — both are Israeli-American and both were Yale class of 1997. And the guy I knew was planning on law school.

It's a good filk, and has garnered a fair bit of comment. Y'all should go read it.

Thursday, 17 April 2003

# 8:20 AM

on returning to the haunts of one's youth

Today I walked to Mr. Mopps, which is a toy store on MLK at Rose, here in Berkeley. They have the most amazingly ridiculous stuffed lion in their front window. When I was a small child we used to go there all the time, but I hadn't been there since. I remember its being much bigger. I'm not sure if that is because I was so much smaller then, or whether the huge area (fully half of the building) that's now employees-only used to be open to the public. I have this vague recollection that Mr. Mopps was shut down for some time in the mid-nineties, and probably changed ownership at least once; perhaps that has something to do with it.

While it is clearly an excellent place to go for toys for children, I didn't see anything there that really grabbed my interest. I wasn't really looking to buy stuff, but even then, I can go into a place like Games of Berkeley not looking to buy stuff and still find nifty things. I guess I'm not the target customer anymore.

On the way back it started to rain lightly. Walking in light rain, without a jacket, is one of those things that's more fun than you remember, when you're all grown up and bored with toy stores. But I'm glad to be reminded, now and then.

things that make me grumpy

Teresa has a pair of posts relating to the war in Iraq and its aftermath, titled And this is evidence of...? and Reading comprehension, and other problems. Reading the two of them back to back I end up wondering why I still live in this country. It grows increasingly harder to apply Hanlon's Razor to the Iraq situation and to all the other things that the present administration has pulled. And if it isn't incompetence to blame, if Bush and Rumsfeld and fellow cronies have a plan they are operating by, then its goal is not one I will stick around to see accomplished.

Except that there isn't anywhere to go, really. If the government of the USA wanted to transmogrify itself into a global hegemony it could succeed. There would be a lot of blood spilt and a lot of ideals gone by the wayside, but I am not sure anything could stop it. And at that point the only thing to do is hang out in the desert trying to hitch a ride on a passing UFO.

I think my personal last straw will be the outcome of the 2004 elections, and in particular whether there will be reason to believe that they are rigged. (The fix might already be in, depending on what the makers of computerized voting machines are up to. I am not optimistic.)

things that make me cheer up again

Discover Magazine has a feature on thermal depolymerization, which looks like a solution to a very broad category of chemical- and biological-waste problems. And furthermore, the design principle (totally closed cycle) is one that will hopefully gain more currency in the broader field of chemical engineering, if the pilot plants are successful. Less toxic waste is always a good thing.

And, this bizarre yet fascinating piece of Flash art. I'm not sure how many sub-animations there are, or how interactive they are, or what. I could spend hours playing. But I really should go to bed now. (This link courtesy of Diane Duane's weblog. If you've never heard of Diane Duane, go immediately to your friendly local bookstore and acquire a copy of The Sword and the Dragon; you will not be disappointed.)

Wednesday, 16 April 2003

# 6:10 AM

Random nifty thing: The best chart ever.

Saturday, 12 April 2003

# 8 PM

fun science fact

If you microwave a CD but you have a glass of water in the microwave at the same time, nothing happens. Presumably the water absorbs enough of the radiation to stop enough current from being induced in the CD.

book reviews

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (Barry Hughart): This is an omnibus edition of Mr. Hughart's three mystery novels set in "an ancient China that never was." Bridge of Birds, the first, is brilliant; the other two, The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen, are not on the same level but still good. I am a little peeved with the author for pulling the exact same plot twist in all three books. Bridge of Birds is, or was recently, in print as a singleton volume; you'll never find the other two except in this omnibus. Also features cover and interior art by Kaja Foglio.

M. A. Foster's Ler series: Warriors of Dawn, The Gameplayers of Zan, and Day of the Klesh. That's publication order; by internal chronology Gameplayers is first. The conceit goes that an attempt to genetically engineer a superhuman race produced a species, the ler, which is other than human, but not necessarily better. The three books are snapshots of the history of this species, taken at widely separated intervals — I think at least two thousand years between each. Gameplayers is a work of genius; Warriors is only decent; Klesh is skippable, although it does tie down a loose historical thread from the other two. All three suffer somewhat from what I suspect is a general tendency of 1970s-era authors to put in sex scenes just because they could.

Tim Powers' Last Call. This is a really good book with a back-cover synopsis that totally put me off it for years, despite being almost entirely accurate. Specifically, I thought the protagonist had played poker with the devil and was now trying to get his soul back, which falls into the category of "done to death." Not so. The devil does not appear in this book, and it's the title to his body that the protagonist is trying to recover. Very well written, hard to put down, and who else could make the climax of the book be an adrenaline-pumping series of poker games? One might be confused by the concept, introduced midway through the book, of "buying or selling" poker hands. Notionally, if you lose a round of poker, you have bought the hand of cards you were playing with, and if you win a round, you have sold that hand. This has magical implications.

Wednesday, 9 April 2003

# 5:25 AM

a small satori

This morning I got up and discovered that I had run out of clean shirts, underwear, and socks all at the same time. In other words, I have the same number of all these things.

a small grouse

Providing a subset of the Emacs key bindings in your text entry widget or mini-editor is a good thing. I encourage this. But if you do, please, imitate complete groups of keys. For example, if you make control-E mean "move to the end of the line" then you had better make control-A mean "move to the beginning of the line"!

Sunday, 6 April 2003

# 10:05 PM

I went to see Guster at the Warfield last night. My friend Adam is a huge fan of this group. I like the music, and the performance was excellent ... yet the show didn't grab me at all. Part of it was that all their music is sad, and I was already in a down sort of mood, so it just made it worse. (They don't play the blues; that sort of music usually cheers me up when I'm down.) Another part of it was that I couldn't find anywhere in the club where I could see the band, didn't have to stand on my cramping left leg, and the club security would leave me alone. I got asked to move about five times.

The Guster album that has songs you may have heard is called Lost and Gone Forever. Parachute is also very good. Despite the above, I heartily recommend the music.

The other thing to be grumpy about today is that the kitchen sink is leaking again. The last major repair was more than a year ago, but it was clear almost at once that this would not last. It is presently not possible to turn off the hot water tap. And there is no chance of getting the landlord to do anything about this before tomorrow. Oh well, I don't pay the bill for the water or the heating thereof.


Joshua Marshall hits it out of the park again with another Washington Monthly article, Practice to Deceive.