Posted by Jarsto in Musings
August 20th, 2008 | No Comments »

Every once in a while you run across a word that is eloquent. Most of the time eloquence needs sentences, even paragraphs, but some words just say something so neatly they are, in themselves, eloquent. I was thinking about making dough yesterday, after watching my recording of Monday’s episode of The Hairy Bakers from the BBC.1

The ideal water temperature for making dough – warm enough to activate the yeast, but not hot enough to destroy it – is usually described as either handwarm, or tepid. In some places even plain old lukewarm is used. But I once ran across a word which, to my mind, says it much more eloquently: bloodwarm.

Bloodwarm is – to my mind – a far more precise measurement than handwarm (which can be anything from the temperature of your hands, to the warmest water your hands can take). It means literally the temperature of your blood, or in other words you internal body temperature. For human beings this is normally in a pretty narrow band of just about 1 degree C. And it’s pretty easy to guess just by feeling the water.

I don’t run across words that strike me that much often, but whenever I do it’s a joy. Somehow words like that manage to pound a prodigious amount of meaning into one neat little package, and I enjoy them very much indeed.
1 For those unfamiliar with the series, look here for a bit more info

Posted by Jarsto in Musings, NaNoWriMo 2008
July 14th, 2008 | 9 Comments »

As my last blog post more or less announced I’ve been doing some worldbuilding. To be precise I’ve been writing a history of the 23rd century. I’ll go in later to do the twenty second century and parts of the twenty first.

Some of this I had actually worked out in very broad terms before, but because I’m fitting this years NaNoWriMo story into the same universe as 2006’s – albeit at a much earlier point in history – getting the history of that universe locked down has suddenly become quite important. So I’m going through and doing year by year lists of major events to start with. Important event will later get the their own, bigger, stories, and some years may well get separate detailed outlines (possibly even day by day accounts) of event.

Which brings me to the title of this post, because as I was doing the work, I started thinking about seers. Or rather I started thinking that there must at least be a chance, however hypothetical, of some of what I was writing down coming true once the twenty third century actually comes around.

Which makes you wonder, were all the seers scattered throughout history really just sci-fi novelists who, frustrated by the fact that sci-fi novels hadn’t been invented yet, had to stick to worldbuilding and sell it as prophecy… Probably not all of them, but I suppose it might be true for some.1
1 I used Nostradamus in the title because he’s the first seer that came to mind. I don’t know enough about him for this post to be any sort of comment on him specifically.

Posted by Jarsto in Musings, NaNoWriMo 2008
July 14th, 2008 | No Comments »

…the universe conspires to make it untrue.

That’s the way I’m feeling about my “well I only really have a setting” NaNoWriMo 2008 blog entry right now. It’s only a couple of hours old, but already an idea of the wider setting is starting to take shape. I suddenly know what sort of space station it is, and which universe it’s located in (it’s in the same universe as my 2006 NaNo, but before rather than after interstellar contact) and I’m even sure about at least one of the conflicts that will drive the story.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to cut this blog entry short and start expanding the world building for that universe.

Posted by Jarsto in Musings, Technology
July 8th, 2008 | 2 Comments »

Random Reflections On: Reassuringly Expensive

I think it was around the time when I installed RedHat 7.3 (the first Linux I really used, albeit rather briefly) that I first ran across the comparison between Linux Distributions and Tomato Ketchup. The reasoning ran, roughly, as follows:

  1. everyone can make Tomato Ketchup, there are a number of recipes available, and they use ingredients that are easy enough to get hold off
  2. most people still buy ready made Tomato Ketchup
  3. this is not because they couldn’t make it themselves, but because they can’t be bothered to make it themselves (it takes a lot of time, and the shop bought ones are more than adequate
  4. similarly everyone could make their own Linux based system from scratch (this is indeed what Linux From Scratch exists for), but few people want to maintain such a system
  5. hence distributions are a perfect way to get Linux to people, and money can be made from making something people could get for free

This line of reasoning is not in fact what this post is set to explore, but I thought it worth dragging up because there are going to be some close parallels in here, unless I’m much mistaken. In fact I’m going to look at this from pretty much the opposite point of view. The above was to explain why it’s possible to make money with free software. What I intend to look at is why costing money is sometimes at advantage.

This is what brings me to Tomato Purée and the phrase “reassuringly expensive”. (If one were to run “reassuringly expensive” through Google it would probably turn up more beer than Tomato Purée, but we’ll get to that in due course.) Like many musings that involve puréed tomatoes this one started with a tin of the stuff in a supermarket. In fact it started with two tins, the one I bought, and the one I decided not to buy.

The tin I didn’t buy was the smaller of the two. It only held 40% (50% at the very most) as much purée as the other tin. It was also, however, over 4 times cheaper, costing exactly 7 cents as opposed to 29 cents for the tin I bought. Mathematically the most obvious thing to do would be to buy two of the smaller tins. But that’s when reassuringly expensive struck.

Because, bizarre though it may seem at first glance, expense can indeed be reassuring. On tends to reason, in essence, that something wouldn’t be more expensive if it weren’t worth more. Or, coming at it from the other side, if it’s too cheap there must be something wrong with it.

To get back to the tomato purée, taking into account the cost of putting it in little tins and transporting it one can’t help but wonder how, at 7 cents for even a small tin, they found the budget to buy any tomatoes.

This “if it’s expensive it must be worth more” line of thought was perhaps most famously exploited by Stella Artois, a Belgian beer, in its UK advertising. While the slogan was dropped amid image problems in 2007 it managed for some time to give Stella Artois an image of quality in the UK, even though the beer was seen as perfectly ordinary in its native Belgium.

Another (tongue in cheek) illustration of the principle can be found in the British sitcom Yes, Prime Minister. In one episode Sir Humphrey Appleby (the cabinet secretary) tries to convince prime minister James Hacker to buy new nuclear weapons by pointing out “This is the nuclear missile that Harrods would sell you.” When Hacker counters that “We don’t need it and it costs billions.” Humprey argues that “You can say that about anything you buy at Harrods.”1

All of which brings me back to the point of software which, several lifetimes ago or so it seems, was what sparked this whole thing. I’ve often though the idea of people picking software because it is expensive silly in the past, but the tomato purée has got me thinking. I pick my software based on:

  1. how good it is at what it does
  2. the philosophy behind it (I do prefer open source where possible) and
  3. the cost (lower is better)

But when someone has no idea how to go about judging the performance quality of software – much the same way I don’t have a clue how to judge the quality of tomato purée (other than in a limited way by tasting it) – I’m beginning to see where they might think “reassuringly expensive” is just the ticket. All of which of course only serves to point out the real problem: the people who are ultimately responsible for buying software often don’t have a clue about judging software.2
1 Some of this dialogue is paraphrased, I couldn’t be bothered to look up the exact quotes.
2 IT departments usually know this, but more often than not they can only advice and financial/management people have the last word.

Posted by Jarsto in Category 42, Musings
July 1st, 2007 | No Comments »

I seem to be learning to sleep in when I can. Now is this something you need to learn? Well it is in my case. In the past, certainly for the last few years, I generally haven’t been able to sleep late. Except for those periods when I was sleeping 10 to 12 hours every single night.

It’s not like I don’t have cause to sleep more than usual these days. I’ve been averaging less that 5 hours a night for the last week. Or at least it was until I slept in until half past nine this morning.  Now that was only an 8 hour night, but it’s rare for me to sleep past 08:00, regardless of what time I go to bed.

That’s made me think. Is how I’ve been feeling for much of the last week how people who often sleep in usually feel? If so, I feel for them. This week has certainly made my commitment to trying to get the solid 6 to 7 hours I need each night a lot firmer.

Posted by Jarsto in Category 42, Musings
April 12th, 2007 | No Comments »

I got to thinking about pizza the other day. Not really as random as that, I happened to be walking past the local pizza place, from there it wasn’t a huge leap of logic. Anyway I finally reached the conclusion that ambrosia is only the food of the gods because, along with all the other challenges of living atop a mountain, the Olympians probably weren’t able to get pizza delivered fast enough to keep it from getting cold.

And as I was thinking about pizza delivery, I started weighing the pros and cons of it. On the plus side it comes in handy when you don’t have any food available, or at least nothing you fancy. On the other hand there is a major problem with pizza (whether delivered or not) and thats putting on weight, at least it is in my case. The simple reality seems to be that pizza is as attracted to the fat cells in my stomach as I am to pizza.

But that wasn’t the end of my train of thought – it was a rather long walk. What struck me was that I can order food, for a price that is affordable at least on an incidental basis, and have it delivered within an hour (faster from some of the more expensive services). There’s something inherently decadent in worrying about the ready availability of too much food, rather than too little. Guess that makes me decadent then…