General interests that may or may not fit anywhere else.

In Honour of Charles Dickens

The other day I realized it was soon to be Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday. I was about to write something earlier about him and then got distracted. Well, now – since today it is his 200th birthday – I am writing something.

To me, Charles Dickens brings great pleasure through his literary works. Some might hear the name and immediately think of The Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist… and perhaps many others… but for me I think of the first work I read by him: Great Expectations.

It was required reading in high school (or was about ~15 years ago) and I was (as often was the case) the only one who really liked it. I thought it was a wonderful story.

Now, in the case of  Charles Dickens, I think his books are of the nature of you either really like them or you really don’t. Sure, there might be some of his books that aren’t this way, or there might be some cases where a person only likes some of a story by his, but in general I have heard various things about Dickens’ books :

  • It is too detailed.
  • Its a fantastic book.

That’s what I generally have seen or heard. And the first one even comes from someone who loves to read and has a very nice library, has a lot of good books to suggest and is the same person who introduced me to my favourite author: Jules Verne.

Still, I really enjoyed Charles Dickens. And while it has been years since I read any thing by him, I did want to take a moment to appreciate his books. He is – no matter what some people do or do not feel/believe/think – a fantastic author, a person who is well remembered for his books in different parts of the world. I can only assume he’ll always be remembered in this world, in some way or another.

And to those who likes the cartoon Bugs Bunny (and besides the politically correct people that influenced Warner Brothers to take some episodes off the air, who doesn’t?), a very interesting thing related to Dickens. Yes, there actually is the possibility of a link to a character in Bugs Bunny and Charles Dickens. Indeed, this is some speculation; however, it is quite possible nonetheless. To those who don’t know what I’m getting at, there’s a character in some of the Bugs Bunny episodes called ‘Elmer Fudd’. He’s actually is fairly small from memory, and so this could be even more likely. In any case, he’s a little humanoid that replaces r’s with w’s and tries to kill Bugs Bunny (who always outsmarts Fudd), Now, what does that have to do with Dickens? Read on…

To those who know the children story Tom Thumb, there was a person who was a real life dwarf whose stage name was General Tom Thumb (real name Charles Sherwood Stratton, he made fame working under P.T. Barnum). I learned of this last year. In any case, when I saw reference to General Tom Thumb, I found something (on Wikipedia) most interesting. It is a quote by General Tom Thumb and the explanation of it. Since I used to watch Bugs Bunny a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it (and even have or at least had VHS’s of cartoons with him in it), and I also have a liking to Charles Dickens, I realized the possible link immediately. Whether it is the real reason or not, I do not know. However, it is interesting to me nonetheless :

Waiter! bwing me a Welsh wabbit

The explorer John Palliser heard the above quote being said. I don’t know if it was Dickens who originally did this, but he at least popularized the mocking of the British aristocracy and the way they would order Welsh rarebit. And that mocking was done by substituting a ‘w’ for an ‘r’. So again, this may be speculation, or it may not be. I find it interesting nonetheless and I think his 200th birthday is the perfect time to suggest or mention it.

In any case, Charles Dickens will likely never be forgotten. I am thankful that I read some of his books, as I thoroughly enjoyed them. I still have plenty more of his to read, but that’s for another time, another day.

The Perfect Fallacy

So, if you’re a person who likes to think, you may wonder what the title ‘The Perfect Fallacy’ could possibly mean. Indeed, there’s many interpretations. Among those I can think of, are the following :

  • A fallacy that is perfect; it can’t be anything but a fallacy and it is described in a perfect way.
  • An oxymoron: how can a fallacy itself be perfect? It actually can’t be if you look at it in these terms.
  • And what about: perfectionism?

Well, for anyone that knows me enough, they can probably guess that I don’t mean the first. Although all of them can be interpreted literally (and I am very very literal; take things from word value rather than context), the first one isn’t really possible (see the second one). Now, as I love puns, word play in general as well as being satirical and sarcastic on multiple levels, the second one ‘could’ be it. Is it though? Not exactly, and those who know me will know why: I’m very much a perfectionist, to the point of it defeating my tasks (often enough which equates to more than it should; indeed, if perfectionism is stopping a single thing from being done, its too much).

So, let’s take a definition of perfect from Merriam Webster:

a: being entirely without fault or defect : flawless <a perfect diamond>

b: satisfying all requirements : accurate

So, with the first two definitions/meanings, it is seen that you can literally mean something else from the first. But is b) really all that perfect? Accurate doesn’t really mean perfect. This is especially true if you think of accurate as a percentage. A perfect (pardon the pun) example is: how accurate are you at typing? What about how accurate are you at declaring an animal by its foot print? Looking at it this way, you can see accuracy it isn’t exactly the same thing – you may be 100% accurate in activity X, Y or Z, but that’s not guaranteed.

So, realistically, perfect means flawless. To be perfect means you have no flaws and no faults, and you make no mistakes. The list goes on in ways you can describe it.

With that said, it does kind of push the ‘practice makes perfect’ claim rather ridiculous. But let’s put that aside, because that’s not what I’m trying to get at. I’m most certainly not trying to say you shouldn’t practice, or you shouldn’t try. You should practice the things you need to be good at, and you should try your best. Some say you shouldn’t try but you should only do. However, its worth pointing out that this would depend on the person and the specific thing they are referring to. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t lift 200 pounds even, for example. I wouldn’t get it it off the floor and I would likely strain my back (or feel like a complete idiot for trying it knowing full well I should start out smaller and work my way up to it).

And that’s the key: you need to work on your skills, work on your abilities. Improve upon them.

Question is, why am I writing this? What made me think of this? I think I thought of it  as I know I am often critical of certain things but the irony is I’m both a perfectionist and I know full well I am NOT even close to perfect  (and in actuality, no one is perfect). I for example am critical of a lot of Microsoft’s decisions. Sure, they may be valid but you know what? They aren’t perfect and that by itself is perfectly (there goes the puns) acceptable. And something else is, they are a very successful company. No matter their flaws, they have a lot of customers and make a lot of money. In that way, they’re successful. They might not be the best with other things, but as a friend I recently talked to (since 2005 last I heard from them) used to always say: You can’t have it all. Truth right there.

As for why I’m writing this? It’s really simple: I feel that we ALL can improve. That includes me by a great deal (and I admit that fully). I also wanted to touch upon the above paragraph: that no matter the mistakes someone or some group makes, it is OK! We as humans are not perfect. Actually, I’m glad of that. If you think about it, any thing that is perfect cannot be improved, so what’s the point? What would you do after you became perfect? You certainly wouldn’t be improving yourself.

Case in point: No one is perfect, and that’s a strength; it is NOT a weakness. If we were perfect, and we had everything we wanted, what would we then gain? Nothing. We might even get overzealous or arrogant and ruin our image.

It might seem ironic that a rather extreme perfectionist is writing this. But you have to remember I’m a very logical person (hence why I really enjoy programming and other computer related things). If you ever think you’re having a perfectionist episode (so to speak), then try to fight it. Put it this way: if you have to have everything perfect, then you’ll never have anything AT ALL. What’s the point in that? I know for me I’ve far too often not finished things because of REALLY stupid things. These stupid (and I do stress really stupid) include the following:

  • I couldn’t think of a “perfect” name for a function in a program. This one gets me a lot, and far more than I’d like to believe.
  • I can’t think of a “better” or “perfect” name in ANYTHING – not just a program.
  • I couldn’t think of a “perfect” way to write something. It’s not like I’m even an English major, so why should I care? I know I write well, and that should be enough. The point of language is to get a point across – to here we go: communicate. Its not to sound smarter or better than someone. It is to communicate. You show how you are through not just words but also ACTIONS (more so the latter I would say).
  • If I lose something I’m writing, then I don’t write it all. The reason? Because I know (laughable really that I “know” that) I can’t write it better. In fact, if you think about it, it could be a lot better. It could open up a new thought… or a new way of working on something. (And if you think about it – some of the most important inventions were accidents and that includes medical discoveries. Imagine that: a scientist discovering something by accident and it being more important than other things he set out to discover intentionally).

That’s only a small portion of things that stop me cold in whatever it is. That itself is a huge flaw/problem with me. The fact I’m not perfect does not matter. What does matter and is a huge problem is that I try to be. I’m not. No one is.

In short:

The Perfect Fallacy is both an oxymoron and also not an oxymoron: being perfect actually IS a fallacy which means it isn’t an oxymoron (as being perfect is a fallacy and impossible). Yet, at the same time, there’s no such thing as being perfect, so surely its an oxymoron (perfect versus fallacy – they’re opposing terms). Take your pick, but if you can think in logical terms, and see the bigger picture (and in colour) then you can see how it can be both at the same time.

As for not being perfect, that does not mean you shouldn’t improve or learn something new. It means you can get better and better. No matter how good you are, there’s likely someone better than you (This also applies to illness; no matter how bad you are off, there’s others who are much worse). Practice does not make perfect but it does something even better: it makes you a better and ever improving person.

So yes, practice your skills. Improve. But never let yourself get to the point where you think you’re perfect or you think some other person is perfect. When you get to that point, or try to get to that point, the game is actually lost because its impossible to get to the end. It’s a maze with no end and the start makes little difference. In fact, the maze is quite a long, convoluted and infuriating one. Lots of puzzles to solve, lots of obstacles, yet when you get around them 10 more show up – ad infinitum.

30 Years In One Night

So, although a lot of this year was rough for me, there’s definitely some important and positive things in this year, too. I’ll reflect on this as I think it is inspiring and it’s always something to keep in mind – no matter how hard or bad things seem to be, good can come if you let it.

In I believe it was August of this year, my favourite band Metallica announced four very special shows for Metallica Club members only. The reason is that in October of this year, it would be 30 years of the band. So, to celebrate, they gave clubbers the chance to win tickets to one, two, three or all four shows. The shows would be December 5, 7, 9 and 10. Now, I’m very thankful and fortunate to have won the first night. I’m especially lucky as I actually lost the ‘four pack’ drawing (meaning you pay $19.81 for four nights) and then I also lost the first drawing of individual nights. Well, I thankfully won Night 1 in the second chance drawing. So, for $6 plus $2.50 for convenience, I got a ticket. I actually ended up spending more as I was allowed two tickets.

So, on December 4th, my brother, my brother’s fiance, my mom and I all went up to San Francisco. The very first time for me, and oh what a reason to go there! On the 5th, my brother and I ended up being on our feet for 15 or more hours. We got in line (already quite a line) at around 11:45 in the morning. The venue did not let us in until 6:30 and the concert did not start until 8. Further, we didn’t get out until after 2am. Well worth the sore legs and sore everything, however. Lots of laughs both inside the venue and out.

During the last song, their common closure Seek and Destroy, balloons were dropped from the ceiling. I caught one and later realized there was a coin in it. I got the large green coin (green was the colour for Night 1 – each night they had a different colour). My brother was given two by someone (If I recall from Australia) – one large and one small. My brother asked me if I wanted the small one and I was thankful and indeed did take it.

The night was absolutely incredible and something I will never forget (unless I get dementia perhaps…). It was a memorable experience and the most important experience in my life, for sure, as they mean so much to me and have helped me in so many ways.

A bit about the show:

First, ‘testimonials’ by a bunch of people, including Beavis & Butthead (that was really neat to see, and I remembered them always [especially Beavis] liking Metallica). Then, the comedian Jim Breuer hosted a Metallica trivia contest. That was really neat to see. Then the Soul Rebel Brass Band played. That was actually really cool. Also opening was Apocalyptica – yes, the cello Metallica cover band. Then Metallica came on stage. They actually opened with The Call of Ktulu! Following that, many other cool songs, including three songs never played, one never released:  Carpe Diem Baby was played for the very first time. Then, they played a song never released called Hate Train. And later in the set, (along with Brian Tatler and Sean Harris of Diamond Head !!) they played Its Electric (never before played live until Dec 5 of this year).

I got some nice items there, and I have a picture of some of them (all but the 4 poster set I bought too, but have not hanged anywhere yet).

Speaking of 30, it’s near my 30th birthday too, so that’s another neat aspect of this (it’s less than 2 months away). In addition, this year was the 25th anniversary of the tragic loss of Clifford Lee Burton – the second bassist of Metallica that lost his life in a bus accident in 1986. Thank you Cliff for your beautiful music, your inspiration, and influences you had on the band and the fans, from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you also goes to Ray Burton (Cliff’s father) who was at the first night and spoke of Cliff there too. That was awesome.

So, with that said, that’s how 30 Years can possibly fit into one night. Technically it was a week long celebration but I only had one night, so for me it was one night.

Remember, no matter how hard things are, there’s good somewhere to be found. You just have to look hard enough and stay strong. As the back of the coins say, 30 Years Strong! There was a time I never thought I’d reach 30 but I’m basically there, and that is something HUGE.

And now for the things I got while at the show – minus the four poster set:

30 Year Anniversary Memorabilia

30 Year Anniversary Memorabilia, Night 1 (5 December 2011).

Steve Jobs of Apple

So, I just saw that Steve Jobs, founder and former CEO of Apple, has passed away. While its known I don’t like Apple as a corporation, what is also known (to those who know me) is I won’t disrespect human life. So, here’s some thoughts – positive thoughts – about Steve Jobs and indeed Apple. Have I lost my mind? No, I really don’t think so. I think I just don’t like some of their ways but that doesn’t mean they didn’t bring any good or that Steve Jobs is a terrible person. In fact, I think quite the opposite.

First, although I disagree with blocking of recording of live music (which Apple applied for a patent on one of their phones and a technology that does try to block recording of any live event) full on (it should be up to the band, frankly), I will say that Steve Jobs has helped both the music and video/movie industry. How so, is that Apple’s hardware is more often than not taken advantage of by the entertainment industry – video and sound alike. That’s a HUGE thing to many people, myself included. Thank you Apple for helping the music industry and the graphics and video industries.

Second, I have fond memories of the Apple IIe computer. I loved some of the old games with the not so “great” (compared to today’s possibilities) graphics. Sure, there’s other old time computers I have memories of, but I won’t lie: the Apple IIe is one of them and that was Apple’s computer.

Third, a big corporation with such technologies and capabilities, brings innovation (or as much as is possible when proprietary) and jobs (pardon the pun). It also brings competition, which brings new and better things along the way (including from themselves, e.g, the Apple IIe is nothing compared to today’s Apple technology). And hey, I have to give them some credit for using a Unix based OS for their MacOS X and onward (even if they did make it hard[er] to compile programs).

Lastly, Steve Jobs was human. He also happened to die way too young in today’s world. I lost an aunt to cancer. Many people lose loves ones to cancer, and its a terrible disease and its even terrible to watch someone lose their strength, their will, themselves, as it progresses. I really wish we were more advanced with health care, and indeed cancer treatments, but sadly we are not. We just need more time and work, but sadly many more will die before that time comes. Here’s something interesting, however, and something on the positive end in a way. Anyone familiar with mustard gas? Yes, that’s what the Germans used in World War 1. Well, back in the 1950s, they actually used mustard gas in cancer. How is this positive? Well, its positive that we’ve moved away from that and to something more sane. Sure, chemotherapy and radiation are not exactly safe. Indeed, it actually is killing the cancer cells (at the same time it sadly is killing the person too). But, remember, not everything comes overnight. Remember that many things that we have today (e.g., anaesthesia for that painful surgery you might have to go through one day) didn’t always exist. Same too with anti-emetics (anti-nausea) and many other things that many people rely on. At the same time though, mustard gas was doing similar to what chemotherapy and radiotherapy do: they are killing the person (and thus cells in the body). However, what we have today is far from perfect – but it’s all we know at this time.

(As an aside, please, if you’re against medical research, keep it to yourself. Please. Too many are dying terrible deaths due to government or whoever else trying to stop medical research or even medical care. It’s fine if you do not want medical care, but please don’t try to prevent others from getting healthcare. It’s vital and you yourself would not be alive today if it were not for medical care. Don’t believe me? Then go look up the plague for one example of many diseases that wiped out many many people and that likely includes ancestors of yours.)

Jules Verne: Scientist or Author?

So, I just noticed an interesting science project. The general idea is below, and more can be found at the BBC – Magnetic Mysteries of Earth’s core.

To understand what form it might take under the extreme conditions at the centre of the Earth, Professor Kei Hirose set himself a seemingly impossible challenge: recreate the conditions of the core in his lab at the SPring-8 synchrotron near Osaka, Japan. After 10 years of trying, he has finally succeeded.

He has created an incredibly powerful vice using the tips of two diamonds. Between them he has pressurised a sample of iron-nickel to three million times atmospheric pressure and heated the sample to about 4,500C.

Under these extraordinary conditions, the crystal structure of iron-nickel alloy changed and the crystals rapidly grew in size. “We may have very big crystals at the centre of the Earth, maybe up to 10km,” says Hirose.

These crystals would all align “like a forest”, says Hirose, pointing at the poles.

Also mentioned in the article, is my favourite author: Jules Verne. Why, is because in one of his novels, _The Journey to the Centre of the Earth_, he describes the centre of the Earth as having growing crystals (among other things).

I said for years that Jules Verne was way ahead of his time. It seems far more so, now, as the article I mentioned (above) shows. I’ve read several of his books (I’m sad to admit I never got around to all of them) and I want to highlight upon some things that I remember from reading the books, years back. It’s not just seismology though. It’s other types of science, too. Also travelling methods come to mind. He was ahead of his time in quite a lot of different things, and as more time goes on on Earth, the more it shows. And when he wrote about these things, he described them very similar to how it ended up being. I find that fascinating. It says a lot about many of the positive features of the brain and the imagination.

For example, as I recall, in _20,000 Leagues Under the Sea_, Captain Nemo had something very much like electricity in his submarine. Firstly, the novel was original written in 1870, and what? Submarines? They weren’t invented at that time, and they certainly were not in wide use until the next century during World War I. Yet, then there’s another interesting thing: light in the submarine powered by his form of electricity, which also wasn’t in existence. The light bulb was introduced and demonstrated in 1879 – roughly 9 years after 20,000 Leagues. Sure, it was an old idea, but as I recall it, the similarities in both systems – they were shockingly close. It’s been years since I read it, but this is only one such book and similar idea to our life these days.

And although I cannot remember other examples in detail, I do recall many things sounding very much like life in the 20th century (when I read his works). And now, it seems like he may have been partially correct in his book _Journey to the Centre of the Earth_.

What’s also very interesting, is that one of the Linux distributions I am familiar with and use on a daily basis (Fedora Core) – the next version is in honour of Jules Verne. I was excited to hear that but now more so.

In short, Jules Verne was a fascinating person, a very imaginative writer, and to those who like to read and have not read his books, I highly recommend them. If you’re curious, my favourite of his is somewhat of a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It’s a fascinating book full of adventure, science, survival as well as (not surprisingly) mysteries. The name? The Mysterious Island. I did also like 20,000 Leagues a lot (and had to read it when I realized the link to it and The Mysterious Island). I enjoyed the others I read, too but those are my two favourites.

As for how I was introduced to him, I have to thank my father. Although we’re not close, one thing I loved doing with him, is we each (on our own time) read books he suggested (that he read when he was younger), and then we talked about the books. That’s one of the few very fond memories of my father, but I’m happy to have that, for I may not know of Jules Verne or certainly not have enjoyed his books. We also enjoyed something together. I also, as I recall it, heard of a place I’d like to go to visit at some point, here in California. I think it was during discussing something with my father about The Mysterious Island, that this lake came up: Mono Lake. It could have been a different book, or it could have been both. It’s been too long since it happened. Regardless, it sounded really interesting, and I hope to go some day.

Thanks also go to the BBC for yet another inspiring and fascinating article that brings light to something interesting in the world, new or old or in this case, a bit of both.