Happy Winter Solstice everyone!
grok_mctanys
Hope your festivities are full of pleasantness and relaxation.

Also, reminder, new year's at mine. Turn up from 6pm-ish.

Thinkgeek!
grok_mctanys
Thinking about putting an order in sometime around Wednesday. If you want me to add anything to help split the cost of shipping, let me know below!
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Exercise regime... still being followed!
grok_mctanys
So this is going better than expected.

My 2nd 4-week block finished a couple of weeks ago, and I kept up the "3 mornings/week with 2 of the mornings consecutive" pattern with only 1 missed morning near the start of the block due to my old running shoes actually falling apart and needing to buy new ones.

I'm 2 weeks into my planned "4 mornings/week" pattern...Collapse )

I'm not actually fit yet - but I'm getting to the point where I can put enough work in that I might actually start to make some progress.

I was right that life generally isn't getting in the way of exercising in the morning. I just hope I can continue to keep it up as it continues to get colder and rainier, and that I'll be able to fit into my old salopetteshave the strength and stamina to make the most out of as much time as possible on the slopes, rather than wimping out early.

Birthday!
grok_mctanys
It turns out that early this coming January, I'm celebrating a Significant Birthday™. And I know people aren't particularly up for going to another gathering shortly after the new year, because you can have too much of a good thing.

So, I'm going to be celebrating my birthday slightly prematurely on Dec 31st, at my house. If we've met and exchanged more words than a polite "hello, what are you studying?" and you already know where I live, then you, and +1 (or +n, depending on how much drama you choose to invite into your personal life), and any immediate blood relatives, are invited.

On voting for a candidate or a party
grok_mctanys
Thoughts which remain after a slightly drunken conversation in the pub on Friday...

In a general election (or parliamentary by-election), should you vote for an individual candidate, or a political party?

Obviously, you do actually vote for an individual candidate, who may or may not belong to a party. But should the choice of the individual you vote for be based on their individual political positions and personality, or should you just stick to voting for the party you believe in?

The question may seem a little redundant, because the positions of individual candidates is highly correlated with the party they belong to. If, for example, a party with a manifesto promoting lassez-faire capitalism is appealing to you, then the candidates for that party will most likely have positions that you agree with the most, and vice-versa for a party campaigning on workers rights and environmental protections.

However, let us consider the following hypothetical scenario. Your vote makes a difference (stop laughing). In fact, your vote makes the difference in a general election, between candidate S of the Strange Party, and candidate C of the Charm Party, winning your constituency by one vote. Moreover, the result of your constituency makes the difference between the Strange Party and the Charm Party winning the election and forming the next government.

Also consider that you are a Strange voter. You believe that the direction set forth in the Strange party manifesto will be the best for the country over the next few years, bringing the greatest benefit to the most number of your fellow citizens, while the Charm party will bring forth a disaster of biblical proportions; cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria.

For some reason or other, you actually know quite a bit about candidates S and C. Maybe they've been opponents in your constituency for some time, and possibly both had a previous stint as your MP. The thing is, candidate S has proven to be an odious human being. They've cheated on their spouse, hinted at various types of bigotry, spread ugly fear-mongering to rally their allies against a mostly-imaginary outgroup in our midst, all the depressingly-usual political slime that you hate. On the other hand, candidate C seems like good people, and has actually moved a reasonable way towards Strange politics over the course of their career. At this point, you suspect they'd actually vote for the policies you care about in parliament (party whips excepted), and are partly in the Charm party simply because that's where they've always been.

Who do you vote for? The person, or the party?

If you vote for candidate C, you'll have someone you can actually support, voting the way you want in parliament. If you vote for candidate S, you won't.

But, if you vote for candidate C, the party that gets to decide which issues parliament gets to vote on, the party that gets to set the direction parliament goes in, is a party with an agenda you don't agree with.

I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating."
-- William M. Tweed (1823-1878), corrupt US representative & senator.

Clearly, I'm leaning towards voting for the party. Is this reasonable, or have I just spent 500+ words justifying to myself why I shouldn't need to bother actually researching the candidates for the next election?

Another attempt at establishing an exercise regime underway
grok_mctanys
Last year when I went snowboarding, the gradual but continual increase in my waistline meant I was finally unable to fit into my old skiing gear, necessitating the emergency last-minute purchase of new salopettes. This was desipte an attempt in the 3-4 months previously to do regular exercise in the form of going running and bike riding.

The trouble was that I was trying to fit in exercise in the evening, but kept being stymied by doing stuff with friends (ow, my twisted arm! :-), or by the local football team playing and making the roads too dangerous for cycling and too intimidating for running, or by exhausting days at work, or any one of many other convenient excuses I could come up with to not go. To be fair, I think I did enough so that my leg strength and stamina helped me get a lot more out of the holiday than I would have otherwise, but I didn't get as fit as I'd hoped.

So, 4 weeks ago I shifted my body clock back by a couple of hours. Instead of going to bed around 1-2am and getting up at around 8 to go to work, I'm going to bed around 11-11:30pm and getting up at 6. This gives me time to exercise from around 6:30 to 7/7:30ish, then cool off for a bit before showering, and then going to work. Yes, I'm finally going to bed before midnight, and it feels strange. (The teenager in me is protesting strongly.) It was actually the hardest thing to do, but I needed to do it before any of the other things could fall into place. But, because almost no-one schedules anything for 6:30am, I should find it hard to come up with excuses to slack off.

As a result, I've actually managed to go cycling or running every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for these last 4 weeks. Well, except one Friday where I overslept, but made it up by going out on Saturday instead.

Still, I'm actually surprised I've managed to keep it up this long. I mean, yay! for having done so, but I suspect it may not last. I've tried a bunch of ways to exercise previously, with varying initial levels of enthusiasm. They all lasted for different amounts of time, but I've not been able to keep up anything as a permenant lifestyle change.

However, the first 4 weeks is a bit of a milestone, so I thought I'd mention it as an update into my own life. The next 4 weeks, starting tomorrow, sees a change to the routine, by going out on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. This is to give my poor legs a chance to get used to working hard 2 days in a row, in preparation for moving to Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday in another 4 weeks. If I haven't given up by then.

Elon Musk interview
grok_mctanys
If you found last week's post on SpaceX winning a contract bid to develop crewed launch capability interesting, and wanted a bit more background about where CEO Elon Musk is headed with this, you might want to check out The Elon Musk interview on Mars colonisation:
‘SpaceX is only 12 years old now,’ [Musk] told me. ‘Between now and 2040, the company’s lifespan will have tripled. If we have linear improvement in technology, as opposed to logarithmic, then we should have a significant base on Mars, perhaps with thousands or tens of thousands of people.’

(via HN)

Edit: 60 minutes piece from May 2012

SpaceX awarded CCtCap contract worth $2.6B
grok_mctanys
Ever since the last Space Shuttle mission flew in 2011, the only crew access to the International Space Station since has been via the Russian Soyuz system.

So, NASA announced the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) programme, soliciting bids from commercial companies to provide crew access to the ISS by 2017. The main bidders for CCtCap were Boeing (of Saturn V, Delta IV and (with Lockeed-Martin) Atlas V fame), Sierra Nevada (with their in-development Dream Chaser) and SpaceX (with their Falcon 9).

A short while ago, NASA announced that Boeing and SpaceX have both been awarded contracts to build the next generation of spaceships to take crew to and from the ISS.

They both have contracts for 6 launches each, starting in 2017, and based on their the amounts they bid, Boeing have been awarded $4.2B, while SpaceX have been awarded $2.6B. Meaning, SpaceX were able to out-bid Boeing by 38% on the contract, with enough evidence to convince NASA that they would actually be able to do the job for the amount they bid.

For anyone interested in space travel, exploration and colonisation, and hoping that boundaries continue to get pushed back, this is great news. SpaceX, or rather, founder & CEO Elon Musk, wants to put people on Mars. Providing commercial launching services to other people with an immediate need to get stuff to space is how they're funding the development of the tech to do that. Although they have a pretty busy cargo manifest through to year end 2016 already, having a customer with a need for crewed access to space to help fund that stage of their development is huge. They'd have done it anyway without the NASA contract, but this removes a lot of uncertainty around funding and timeframes.

The reusable launch system should be pretty far along by then, if not actually up and running. Even if they always use brand new rocket cores for crewed launches, if they can reuse them afterwards for cargo missions, that will lower their per-launch costs by spreading them over multiple flights, and they'll be making even more profit on each mission to fund the next stage of development.

Fingers crossed for their ISS resupply mission (CRS-4) on Saturday!

Edit:
NASA press release
SpaceX press release

Car update
grok_mctanys
In a shock move, dealing with my insurance company was surprisingly straightforward, and everything got sorted pretty quickly.

Probably because everyone figured out pretty quickly that it definitely wasn't my fault, and the other driver's insurance company would be liable.

The worst part was spending about an hour on the phone with the insurers, where some call-centre agent basically read me all the contract details for getting my car repaired, and getting a courtesy car, and getting an insurance policy to protect me if the other insurer didn't pay up and the repair bill ended up coming back to me (which, despite being an insurance policy, is something I didn't have to pay for).

It seems like this is something they do all day, so not only are they completely familiar with the terminology, but when they read it off their screen all the words blur together, which makes everything doubly hard to understand. Also, when they've been explaining about repairs, and courtesy cars, and then rattle off some "small print" referring to "the service", it's not always clear which service they're talking about when. But when you ask them to slow down and go back a paragraph, sotheyaren'ttalkinglikethisanymore, they... start... talking... like... this... instead.

The weird part is when they go over something that seems pointless. Like "if you cancel the service within 15 days, you will then be charged for it and we won't cover it." "Uh, why might I do that? I mean, why would anyone cancel the service?" "I don't know. I can't think of any reason." "Why are you telling me this then?" "It's just something we have to make you aware of. Don't worry about it."

Surely, if you have to make me aware of something, then that means I have to understand it. If I didn't have to understand it, why bother? But in that case, why tell me things that don't make any sense?

Never mind. After all that, the next day I went to the mechanics they asked me to go to to get the damage assessed, and a guy just took some photos of the superficial damage to the body panels, noted down my mileage and a couple of other bits, and told me it would probably be uneconomical to repair. And that was that.

A couple of days later the insurance company got back to me, told me they'd determined that the car was uneconomical to repair, and they'd pay me the full value of the car in lieu of repairing it (~£750) but let me keep it.

So I took it to a mechanic near where I work and got them to actually check for mechanical damage. Even though I'd been driving it around for about a week at this point, and couldn't feel it pulling to one side or any strange vibrations, I had noticed that the wheel that had been struck wasn't entirely true anymore, and had no way of knowing whether anything was at all likely to suddenly snap or fall off.

Turns out everything was structurally sound. I just needed the wheel arch knocking out a bit to ensure it wouldn't rub against the wheel if I hit a vicious pothole, and the bumper riveting in place to make certain it wouldn't start flapping about at high speed, and a bit of (mismatched) undercoat on the bare metal to protect it from the elements. And a new rear numberplate light. That, plus a new MOT for the insurance company to let me keep my existing policy until it's original end, came to ~£150, all in.

So I made ~£600 on being hit, and now my car has authentic battle damage!
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Irony meter go spoing!
grok_mctanys
List of people who have petitioned for the right to be forgotten

Come to think of it, I can't quite tell if this is simply irony, or whether it's actually crossed the line into paradox. Yes, I'd like the online list of all people who have petitioned for the right to not be in online lists, please.