18 October 2017

[The Strenuous Life] Easy Rider Badge I

NOTE: For anyone who missed my last piece about [The Strenous Life] tagged posts, read it before this one! This post is written to satisfy the "Name basic types of motorcycles and features" requirement for the ‘Easy Rider’ badge.

The ‘Easy Rider’ badge on the Strenous Life is (unsurprisingly) focused around getting one’s motorcycle license. I know how to ride reasonably well, and own a motorcycle , and even had my learner’s permit for a year. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time or money to take the licensing test when I first got it. Thanks to the New South Wales government, there is no way to renew a permit without forking out a stack of cash and spending two days doing remedial review on how to start a motorcycle and similar things. The upshot is that I’ll have to wait until I’ve got a paying job and a weekend to burn re-learning the basics to start working toward my license again.

For now I’ve had to settle for learning a bit about motorcycles, and how to operate and maintain them. This has included some more general mechanical knowledge (I finally know what a carburetor does), and random motorcycle specifics (like why two-strokes need oil mixed in with their fuel). In this series of posts I’ll be summarizing the six main types of motorcycles, listing the major mechanical components and controls that make them go VROOOOM, and briefly describing the pre-ride inspection as it applies to my own bike.

I call her Kira

Without further ado, lets dig into the different types of motorcycles. According to Wikipedia (or rather, the four sources that Wikipedia points to), the most widely recognized classes are Standard, Cruiser, Touring, Sport, Dual-sport, and Offroad. There are also the various sub-categories of scooter, which won’t be covered here.

My own bike is a standard or “naked” bike, which disappointingly has nothing to do with whether or not I need to be clothed to ride it (always wear your full safety gear, kiddos). These bikes are characterized by a lack of fairings (the sleek-looking bits that cover the front end of sportier motorcycles), no windscreens, and an upright riding position where one’s shoulders are above the hips. Great for beginners, they are the vanilla ice cream of motorcycles.

So much cooler than me

This makes choppers, like the Goldblumobile from Nashville, those weird Ben & Jerry's flavours that cost $50 a pint. They come in all shapes and sizes, but generally are a cut-down and customized (‘chopped’) version of a production cruiser, our second type of motorcycle. Cruisers still lack fairings and windscreens, but unlike naked bikes the riding position is leaning-back, with the riders feet forward and hands up. They tend to have low-end torque (meaning less shifting gears at low speed), but wind against the rider’s chest can make riding them at high speeds tiring. Ideal for, well, cruising.

But what if you are really looking for a small, non-sporty, two-wheeled convertible, with the top always down? Enter the touring bike. Typically with both fairings and windscreens, these bikes provide relatively good weather and wind protection. The riding position on touring bikes is relaxed and upright, which combined with the large fuel tanks means long distance travel is both possible and comfortable. Ample storage space has earned these bikes several (not entirely complimentary) nicknames: bagger, full bagger, dresser, full dresser, and full dress tourers.

Although this one prefers to be called 'Steve'

On the other hand, if you want the vroomiest vroom out of your bike, you are probably better served by getting a Sport motorcycle. Like the touring bike, sport bikes have windscreens and fairings, but - and this a critically important distinction - much cooler looking windscreens and fairings. Instead of sitting upright like a chump, you ride leaning forward, with your legs up and back, and your arms reached out in front of you. This position allows the wind resistance to actually support your body at high speeds, and makes it easier to take those ridiculous racing corners where your knees almost scrape the ground. These bikes are way too cool for me, and I’ll probably never own one.

The remaining two bike types are slightly different from the others. While the previous types have all been designed with various road-uses in mind – dirt bikes are for the roads less travelled (the ones that aren’t actually roads). The dual-purpose/dual-sport bike is either an off-road worthy naked bike, or a road-worthy dirt bike (and more commonly the latter, from what I am given to understand).

So there we have it – six types of bikes. For the next two posts on this topic (going over parts and controls, and the pre-ride inspection), I’ll be focusing on my own bike – a 2006 Honda VTR250, but will try to note where significant different possibilities exist. Or not, it’s my blog after all and I can be as capricious and inconsistent as I like.

05 May 2017

[The Strenuous Life] The Strenuous Life

TLDR: This post is about a new self-improvement platform I’m beta testing called ‘The Strenuous Life’; if that is of no interest to you, then what do you think of this?. The bottom line is that you can safely ignore posts with [The Strenuous Life] prefixed to the title, unless you want a glimpse into some of the stuff I’m learning in my spare time.
“Let those who have, keep, let those who have not, strive to attain, a high standard of cultivation and scholarship. Yet let us remember that these stand second to certain other things. There is a need of a sound body, and even more of a sound mind. But above mind and above body stands character – the sum of those qualities which we mean when we speak ofa man’s force and courage, of his good faith and sense of honor.” - Theodore Roosevelt (Citizenship in a Republic)
I made my first (cringe-inducing) post on this blog a little under seven years ago. I probably could not have fully expressed my reasons at the time, but the creation of a new blog was just a minor component of a larger effort of self-improvement that began when I graduated high school.

PICTURED: Awkward Chubby Nerd

Don’t get me wrong – I actually had a great time being an awkward chubby nerd, and I spent many an enjoyable afternoon playing Halo 2, Magic, and/or Dungeons and Dragons instead of doing whatever it was the cool kids did
 (Drinking? Going to pep rallies? Hanging out at the pep rally drinking and singing show tunes?).

PICTURED: Cool Kids, probably

But I certainly wasn’t living my best of all possible lives – and I knew it. The main reason I was so eager to graduate early was because going to university represented an opportunity to re-invent myself, and start becoming the man I wanted to be.

PICTURED: The Man I Want to Be

I discovered the Art of Manliness blog soon after I arrived at uni, and have been following it ever since. It provides consistently high quality content on a wide range of topics, which almost always correlates well with my own self-improvement goals. Recently Brett McKay, the founder of AoM, launched a new project called ‘The Strenuous Life’; it’s a sort of a self-paced online gamified Scouts program for adults, complete with physical badges available for completing various requirements. This is definitely my bag, so I was thrilled to be one of the 150 accepted into the beta testing “Red Team” for the last couple months.

The badges cover a huge range of skills/topics - from ‘Sharpshooter’ to ‘Orator’ to ‘Kiss the Chef’ - and have all sorts of requirements - including reading (‘Read “Citizenship in a Republic”'), writing (‘Describe the different types of motorcycle’), and physical effort (‘Walk 50 mi. in 24 hours’). There are also daily check-ins for exercise and good-deed-doing, and weekly challenges (‘Take a 5’ cold shower every day’). The format is going to change somewhat before it goes live, so I won’t go into any more detail until I see the final form, but I can say that as it currently exists (1) I find it extremely motivating, and (2) I endorse it completely for anyone seeking broad-based self-improvement.

Now, I’ve been working through a few of these badges in my pomodoro breaks and have decided that the most efficient/self-motivating way to do the writing tasks is to structure them as blog posts. While my blog posts are frequently rambling self-indulgent drivel written primarily for my own amusement, usually they are at least original rambling self-indulgent drivel. Those that will be going up with [The Strenuous Life] tag are most often going to be a summary of information easily obtainable from other sources, so may be of even less interest than my typical fare. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Stay tuned for the next Strenuous Life post, where I attempt to learn all about motorcycles (for the ‘Easy Rider’ badge).

“I live The Strenuous Life.
I train for harmony in body, mind, and soul.
I am strong to be useful.
I choose action over abstraction.
I do hard things.
I live The Strenuous Life.”

01 December 2016

A Song of Supply and Demand

I write themed final exam review for the Economics course I tutor, because I am a huge nerd. Now you can enjoy some Game of Thrones themed Economics problems while you wait for Season 7.

Congratulations! You have been appointed the Master of Coin, and now sit on the King’s small council – one of the most influential positions in all of Westeros. However, such a position of power is always a precarious one, so ensure you deal with the following problems carefully!

A Game of Loans
The Hand of the King wishes to host a tournament celebrating the King’s upcoming birthday, and has decreed a rise in income taxes from 10% to 20% in order to supply the prize money. You have some money put away in the Iron Bank of Braavos earning 10% interest, and inflation is consistently 1%. What will the effective tax rate be on your real interest, both before and after the Hand’s tax increase?

A Basket of Things
The visiting Warden of the West is concerned at the increasing cost of living in Casterly Rock, bringing along his Maester and a set of figures representing the consumption and price of various consumer goods from both this year and last year.

Last year, citizens bought:
  • 10000 loaves of bread at 1 copper stars each
  • 1000 barrels of wine at 100 copper stars each
  • 5000 pounds of meat at 10 copper stars per pound
This year, citizens bought:
  • 10000 loaves of bread at 2 copper stars each
  • 2000 barrels of wine at 110 copper stars each
  • 6000 pounds of meat at 15 copper stars per pound.

The King asks that you calculate the CPI in both years, and the inflation rate, and show your work & results to the Lannister Lord.

A Store of Swords
The King’s least favourite cousin wishes to start up his own sword shop in Oldtown, but has no idea how to run a business, as evidenced by the failure of his previous six shops. He claims he can obtain swords at 3 golden dragons each, and wants the King to grant him a local monopoly to ensure good business. The Master of Whisperers has managed to obtain the following information relating to demand for swords in Oldtown.
Quantity Demanded
Total Revenue
Marginal Revenue
Marginal Cost
Total Cost










The King orders that you complete the table and find the profit maximization point so his halfwit cousin isn’t driven out of business (again). What would the price likely be if the King decides not to grant a local monopoly?

The Wines of Winter
Winter is coming, and despite their political troubles, all of the Seven Kingdoms want to stock up on fine Arbor wines (in anticipation of decreased supply during the winter years). Draw a supply and demand diagram showing what happens.

The Grand Maester is alarmed at the rapidly changing price of wine, and suggests issuing a proclamation freezing the price of Arbor Red. Show on the diagram what is likely to occur, and explain to the Grand Maester what these consequences will be.

How might wine-makers and wine-buyers react to the resulting Shortage/Surplus? What other rationing methods might come into play?

01 November 2016

30 Things (Updates & Revisions III)

Several years ago I set a list of thirty goals for myself to accomplish before I turn thirty and have to think of an even more ridiculous list of forty items. The list has gone through several iterations as my goals change or (more rarely) actually get accomplished.

30 Things: The Original Series
30 Things: The Next Generation
30 Things: Deep Space 9

And now presenting everyone's second least favorite installment:

30 Things: Voyager!

Totally Incomplete (8/30)
  • Propose to a woman
  • Learn to play an instrument passably well: All I've really done is stated a vague intention to purchase a guitar - and I really want to learn this by my 30th birthday so I can subject you all to a live performance
  • Eat at a Three Hatted restaurant (I mean at least I know that high end restaurants have hats and not stars now - progress?)
  • Travel to Uluru
  • Swim naked in the Pacific Ocean: I'm actually really surprised this hasn't happened yet
  • Purchase some land
  • Grow and eat my own food (Herbs count and are the most likely method by which I will achieve this goal)
In Progress (9/30)
  • Te Araroa: Newly added to the list, and trip planning is well underway (to occur starting in late 2018)
  • Visit every continent: 5/7 - I am missing Africa and Antarctica. Africa will likely be a vacation in a couple years, but I'm seriously considering applying for jobs in Antarctica post-PhD
  • Still Omitted:  Progress slow and boring
  • Get a tattoo: Design is picked so I need to actually take some time and find a good place to get it done - maybe this summer.
  • Write a novel: I've gotten an outline written, but all my writing time at the moment is focused in on my PhD, so won't get to make any more headway on this until next year.
  • Get a PhD: Big deadline coming up this month - on track if I meet it, and in deep trouble if I don't. Wish me luck!
  • Become proficient in a martial art: Really need to get cracking on this one - should get a start within the next year and then specify a more specific definition of proficiency.
  • Read the Gateway to 'The Great Books' - note that I've gradually reduced the ambition of this goal (from the whole Great Books to half to just the introductory series). This is largely a symptom of the sheer length of my reading list! I'll make reading the whole series a part of my '40 before 40' goals.
  • Become fit enough to pass this
  • Put together a GOOD bag and BOAT: Started putting them back together, but don't have all the items, and relatively low priority to purchase.
Completed (13/30)
  • Become a member of the ADF (Reserve)
  • Save (in some form) at least $15,000 (AUS)
  • Go on a date without regard to cost
  • Give blood: I now give semi-regularly (Plasma and Whole)
  • Omitted and completed: With bonus subsequent mountain climb
  • Give away or sell all my excess junk after graduation
  • See a country music act live in concert
  • Have a research paper published: Still here, second one here, third and fourth coming soon!
  • Drive a car faster than 100 mph
  • Fly in a helicopter
  • Cook my way through a cookbook (Done with much thanks to Sarah for the assistance!)
  • Spend a week in the woods: Field portion of my last training block
  • Learn to ride something with 4 legs or less than 4 wheels: Got a motorbike and a permit (still really need to get my full licence though)
Given that I now have less than three years to complete the remainder of this list, I need to get cracking!

03 October 2016

The First Annual Austen Erickson Intellectual Audit

Dear Friends,

I occasionally reflect that my blog resembles the noble tardigrade. A small creature, surprisingly adorable yet still slightly horrifying, and which has the ability to revive itself after many months (or even years) of apparent death.

Left: Adorable tummy-rubby floof; Right: NIGHTMARE SURPRISE

In honor of its current resurrection from cryptoblogosis, I'd like to try something which I've tossed around in my head for a few years: an intellectual audit of my belief system carried out with the assistance of you all - my brilliant friends with whom I frequently disagree about a variety of topics.

This is still an experimental process, and I hope to refine it considerably in future years, but the basic idea is to spend some dedicated time challenging my strongly held beliefs, and exploring deeper into areas in which I still have weak beliefs and/or sparse knowledge. This will necessarily be an incomplete audit (like most people I believe many things about many things), but I hope that it moves my beliefs closer to True (or rather, appropriately increases or decreases my confidence in them).

Below is a (somewhat haphazard) list of broad belief systems I approximately subscribe to, specific beliefs I hold, and some unanswered questions I haven't been able to find a sufficiently convincing answer to.

I'm looking for encompassing refutations or alternate belief systems I should consider, specific challenges or counter-examples, and any evidence one way or another that I may not be aware of. (NB: published evidence > expert opinion > personal opinion, consequentialist arguments preferable but not required - anything is welcome)

Importantly - I am NOT trying to start a debate! This is a (purely selfish) exercise in updating my own beliefs (though I will make every effort to give you my own thoughts if you run the same exercise).

I look forward to your thoughtful responses, safe in the knowledge that no one is ever unreasonable on the internet.
  1. Libertarianism: What are some cases where more government might be better than less (or some better than none)?
  2. Transhumanism: I want to learn more about this topic and would love any good primers (laudatory or critical) that people could recommend.
  3. Many-Worlds: I admit that my belief is mostly based on the LW Quantum Physics Sequence, so I'd be eager to see similarly intuitive explanations of alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics.
  4. Intermittent Fasting: I incorporate occasional (up to 24-hour) fasts into my diet. At the very least this seems to reduce my total caloric intake - is it likely to have other health benefits/risks?
  5. Exchange-Traded Index Funds: Most of my long term saving goes into various low-fee ETFs. Can I realistically be doing better (given that I don't want to spend a lot of thought/energy on this)?
  6. Existential Risk vs. Efficient Charity: I would like some advice on how I should be splitting my charitable donations between efficient charities (i.e. Against Malaria Foundation) that have concrete effects now, and non-profits that focus on existential risk (e.g. MIRI)
  7. Nuclear Fission: Currently, its the safest, greenest, and most efficient form of electrical power generation that exists. Am I right?
  8. What supplements should I be taking? (Nootropics, and for physical health)
  9. What is the current state of cyronics in Australia? Is it worth signing up for with an international provider or best to wait until there is a local facility?
  10. If I wanted to start teaching myself more about architecture, what are the best introductory texts?

A FINAL NOTE: I encourage all of you to perform your own intellectual audit! Make sure you link back to this post to help feed my insatiable ego (and let me know so I can share some knowledge your way!)

18 May 2015

Infinity, and Beyond

To usher in what will no doubt be another sporadic year of blogging* (though I hope to considerably beat the three posts I managed in 2014), I'm bringing you for the first time online a very silly and not entirely un-amusing tale I wrote back in 2002 at the tender age of 12 and the height of my 'random = hilarious' phase (featuring even more excessive usage of parenthetical statements than I am guilty of currently).

This story has a great deal of meaning to me, as I received some very wise input from my older sister Inger while putting it together. Inger always supported my creative projects, and was a constant source of constructive criticism and inspiration. If I ever manage to publish a book, it will be in large part thanks to her teaching me that my own weird voice was worth writing down.

As with all the childhood stuff I've uploaded, I've made only minor edits for spelling and grammar with editorial comments in [square brackets]. Please forgive the juvenile humour of my youth as generously as you forgive the juvenile humour of my adulthood.

*Do people still say blogging?

Infinity, and Beyond
by Austen Erickson

Prologue - The Joruney Begins

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (well, actually it was a few hundred years in the future, in New York, New Jersey)...



The gazillionth Starbucks outlet opened to the horror of earth's citizens; now every car dealer, clothing warehouse, fast (and slow) food joint, and 70% of every other franchise (not to mention coffee), was under control of The Evil Star Bucks Empire (R). A brave rebellion led by Global-Omni-Time-Warner-McMicrosoft was beginning in the far north, but the citizens of New York, New Jersey (New York, by this time, had encompassed the entire Eastern coastline) had had enough. The citizens of The Far North East part of New York, New Jersey decided to form a union and leave the earth in search of a new, pristine world, to colonize and exploit.

They broke open all their piggy banks and somehow managed to raise enough money to build a spacecraft for the interstellar journey. It was called the A.Y.T. (As Yet un-Titled) Spaceship. It was fitted with a cyro-sleep system, which put the user into a state of suspended animation; it looked like a soda machine for no discernable reason [haha 'soda machine' so random... stupid young Austen]. The outside of the ship was painted in a sort of eight-week-old-banana color. It was as large as the Statue of Liberty and had the most sophisticated light drive system available. All in all it should have taken them about twenty years to complete their journey to the sun's nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri,where it was believed there was not one, not three, but two habitable planets. They had already established a system of government: all the rejects, criminals, and lawyers [haha lawyers are bad... shut up kid] would be sent to the second, less inviting planet, named Centuri Secundus. Everyone else would be on the first planet, Centuri Prime.

Unfortunately, the people who staffed much of the crew neglected to appoint anyone who could use the light drive system. This was discovered slightly after they left the solar system, but before they sobered up from the celebrations. Thankfully, a car enthusiast rigged a makeshift engine made of pinball machine parts and a stripped down Subaru Outback. Just before they went into cyro-sleep the First Mate approached the Captain, "Sir, there is a problem with the new engines."
"What is it Number One," the Captain slurred his words, still tipsy from the party. [haha a drunken Patrick Stewart... actually, that is still quite funny - well done] "Make it quick, I'm going to have a hell of a hangover when I get out of cyro-sleep."
"They will take us a little longer to get there."
"How much longer... exactly?"
"About 100 times the original projected amount," the First Mate mumbled meekly.
"Oh good," the Captain's brow furrowed as he attempted the complex arithmetic, "Let's see, two and one are three, carry the one, divide by the square root... or is it multiply?"
"Actually sir, it will take us roughly 2000 years."
"Oh good," repeated the captain, and he toppled backwards into his cyro-sleep pod

Chapter 1 - Just a Minor Setback

1999 years 11 months and 30 days later...

As the ship tumbled onwards into space, a red light began to bleep on the cyro-sleep control on the bridge. No-one heeded it, there was no-one to see it, but ass it blinked, it was joined by others until the entire bridge was covered with lights and huge alarm signals began to sound.

The Captain awoke to the sound of commotion on the deck, "What's happening, where am I?"
The First Mate ran over to pull the Captain out of his pod, "There has been a problem, and the crew was automatically awakened. We found out the extended warranty on the ship ran out several hours ago - it's falling apart!"
"Bugger. Awake the citizens and bring them to the briefing room."
The First Mate turned to leave. "Wait," exclaimed the Captain. The First Mate turned back. "Get me some aspirin, I have a hell of a hangover."

The Captain faced the crew and civilians. He calmly explained the problem and gave instructions on what to do next. His exact words were "THE SHIP IS FALLING APART!!! EVERYONE GET TO AN ESCAPE POD OR WERE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!" as an afterthought he added "CHILDREN AND CAPTAINS FIRST!!!!!"
He then shoved the First Mate aside and sprinted down the hallway to the escape pods.

As the last escape pod broke away from the ship, the First Mate turned and inspected those on his pod. There was the man who had designed the M.P.S. (Makeshift Propulsion System), the ships' cook, and the martial arts instructor and her assistant. He decided to debrief those in his pod:
"As you know, the mission has been split men." The martial arts instructor, Kara, cleared her throat loudly. "And women," the First Mate corrected himself. "We must work together if we hope to reach the new planet alive and build a civilization. We have lost radio contact with the other ships, we are on our..." his words were cut short as the A.Y.T. Spaceship exploded loudly.
Before the First Mate could gather his wits to continue, Joe, the car enthusiast who designed the M.P.S. spoke up, "How exactly, does something make noise in an almost complete vacuum? And how come our ship had gravity? And why exactly is our ship filled with stereotypical characters and bad cliches..."
"Shut up!!!" blurted out Enrico, the cook, "I wanta to know how long it's gonna takes us to get there, please, what about you, please, yes?"
"How come you talk like that?" asked the First Mate.
"Yes, my English is not good, please"
"That's what I mean!" interjected Joe.
"Now that you mention it," the First Mate continued, ignoring Joe, "it should take us a few hours to get there."

As the crew of Pod 389 gossiped, the Captain was similarly examining those on his pod...

Chapter 2 - Hangover

"Row, Row, Row your boat, gently down the stream! If you see a crocodile, don't forget to scream. AHHHHH!!"
"SHUT UP!!!" the Captain bellowed. "Can't you see I have a hangover???" The singing was emanating from two brothers sitting in a larger corner of the escape pod, taking up most if it. The ship's doctor, along with the Captain, were huddled on the other side. Fred, the doctor, finished examining the Captain and began his prognosis.
"Through a freak co-incidence resulting from cyro-sleep, it appears that your nausea, headache, and sensitivity to visual and auditory stimuli will not improve in your lifespan."
"Wha..??" burbled the Captain.
"Your hangover is permanent."
"Damn," cursed the Captain, "We're going to need more aspirin."
"Oh, I've got stacks," came a quiet voice from a pile of empty milk cartons, "You could have some of mine for a price, uh, I mean, that is, you can have it for free if you let us stay."
"Who are you?" inquired the doctor suspiciously.
"Actually, I'm a stowaway, but my friends call me Mick. Everyone else calls me Douglas J. Trenton, although I haven't the faintest idea why. I'm what some people call an opportunist. I co-founded my small, and perfectly legal, I assure you, business."
"Who is your partner? And why are you here?"
Mick looked somewhat sad. "Actually, the answer to both questions are the same." He gestured to the pile and everyone noticed a pointy hat protruding. It abruptly rose and revealed a small, rather dazed, and smiling man underneath. "He thinks he's magic," whispered Mick helpfully.

"Hello," said the new arrival. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm being pursued by a flock of cucumbers." He sank to the ground and started muttering to himself, a smirk on his face all the while.
"What's he talking about?" demanded the Captain.
"Actually, that's about as coherent as Mr. Stadler gets." Mick said with a sigh.
"How on earth did he make you come here?"
"Well, it's a long story, and it doesn't really take place on earth."
"We do have time, you know. Say, did I hear you mention aspirin a minute ago? I have a terrible hangover."

Mick chose to ignore this, and started his story:
"It all started some time ago, and before we begin, I should tell you I'm not human. At least not in the strictest sense of the word..."

Chapter 3 - Mick's Story

"As you might already know, my companion Mr. Stadler perceives reality in a rather different way. Some might even venture the word 'crazy.'  Nonetheless, he had money and wanted adventure, and I wanted money and had enough adventure for anybody. We eventually came to an agreement: he would provide funding for my research and I would find a way to get off our home planet and take him with me, exploring the galaxy.

You would probably be interested to know that several million years ago your moon was teeming with life. That's what we called home those days. Anyway, I set up a research center in one of the craters and began trying to find a way to travel through space at high speeds. Eventually I did,although not in the way you might expect. One day I was trying to find a way to make a liquid that my equipment suggested had an enormous amount of potential energy into fuel. I tried again and again to find a catalyst when suddenly, wouldn't you know, Mr. Stadler dropped a bottle of aspirin into the liquid 'Just to see what would happen' as he said later.

After the dust settled we found the testing chamber completely demolished. It turns out that my partner had finally discovered a way to efficiently produce enough energy to travel across vast amounts of space in seconds. After further, more careful experiments, we - well mainly me - discovered that a drop of liquid mixed with one aspirin tablet would produce enough energy to travel at six times the speed of light for a minute - that's six light years in a minute! [NOTE: I was aware that this was nonsense when I wrote it, and wanted to convey Mick's utter incompetence, but in retrospect the 'joke' might have been too subtle.]

We got a prototype ship working in a few days and took off. We traveled the galaxy until we reached the center. Our scanners picked up a subspace fluctuating anomaly, which is the fancy way of saying that they hadn't the faintest idea of what it was. We got closer to what we now know was some form of black hole. Unfortunately we didn't know then, and so we ventured just close enough to get sucked in. We were spewed out through a white hole, quite near our own solar system. What most people don't know is that for every black hole there is a white hole, and anything sucked in through the black is shot out the white one. Anyway, we crashed onto our home only to find it a barren and unforgiving landscape.

In desperation we made a small pod out of the debris and managed to launch ourselves into orbit around your earth. When we reached the surface we found it quite a long time in the future. I hypothesized that traveling through the black hole must have caused this jump into time. I think that what we saw in that hole may have some significance, it was..." [Aaaaand just about now I believe that the assignment deadline was looming so close that I abandoned my unfortunate foray into science fiction, and dove headlong into the absurd.]

Mick's words were cut short as a blast rocked the pod. Everyone peered out the windows.
"What is it?" asked the doctor in awe. Everyone stared at the black and white ship, somewhat avian in appearance, as it finished strafing the fleet of escape pods and turned back for another run.

Chapter 4 - The Penguins Attack

"Battle stations!" shouted the First Mate.
"What battle stations?" complained Joe, "That line is just another cliche!"
"SHUT UP!" shouted everyone.
"What I meant was," explained the First Mate, "find something to do that will help us!"
"Yes! Man the cannons! Please!" suggested Enrico, sprinting to one of the Laser control booths.
"Woman the cannons!" corrected Kara with equal enthusiasm, as she took her place at the other contorl booth.
"Power up the shields!" exclaimed her assistant, as she did just that.
"Take evasive action!" blurted out Joe, finally getting into the spirit of things.
As the crew bustled around getting ready to fight, the First Mate stood in the center of the deck shouting directions.
"We're being hailed on the radio, all ships are receiving the same message," said Kara.
"On screen," said the First Mate.

The screen crackled to life. A penguin appeared with a Napoleonic three-point hat and an array of medals attached to his chest. As he quacked, the universal translator took effect.
"Greetings, weak humans. We are the Galactic Penguin Empire, and we hereby declare you our prisoners."
The Captain's response could be heard over the radio "Over my dead body!" The Captain's pod swooped towards the Penguin Battleship, lasers blazing. The penguin general paused only momentarily before saying, or rather quacking, "Your offer is acceptable."
An icicle shaped projectile fired out of the enemy ship's beak. It streaked towards the Captain's pod and hit it straight on. The ship froze solid and began drifting away.
"NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!" screamed the First Mate.
"Yeeeeeeesssssssssssss!!!!!" mocked the penguin.
The First Mates face hardened and he switched to a friend only frequency. "All ships attack full firepower, on my command. I'm going after the captain. NOW!"

The entire fleet of escape pods flew in towards the Penguin Mother Ship simultaneously. The Penguin Ship's beak opened again and waves of smaller penguin fighters launched out [Trust me, this looked really cool in my head]. As the firefight continued, the First Mate and his crew sped toward the Captain's crippled ship, hoping they could get there in time.

Chapter 6 - The Battle for Centauri Prime

As lasers and icicles streaked across space, immobilizing dozens of ships on either side, the First Mate sped toward the Captain's frozen ship. Once they arrived, they docked their ship to the Captain's and boarded. They peered around, expecting to see devastation. Instead, they found the crew huddled around a campfire coming from a tin can in the midst of the ship. Two people who the First Mate did not recognize were sitting around the fire. The one with the pointy had walked up to them.
"Well pickle me tink!" he chuckled, "If it isn't my old pal Mr. Groucho!" He collapsed to the ground in a giggling heap.
The second stranger came up to them also, "I'm sorry, you'll have to forgive Mr. Stadler's behavior. I'm Mick, pleased to meet you." He thrust out his hand.
"Er... nice to meet you too," the First Mate tried not to look surprised. "Say, you aren't the one's who set up that campfire are you?"
"As a matter of fact I am, I call it the 'Campfire-in-a-Can.'"
"I see."
At this point the Captain interjected, "I hate to interrupt the festivities, but it appears we're winning."
Once again all eyes peered out the ice-covered windows.

Several penguin ships were forming a pyramid shaped formation and charging up, but a single escape pod ran headlong into the first one, sending them all flying in different directions. More penguin ships surrounded and converged on the escape pod, but it merely sped off in a different direction causing a spectacular traffic jam. It was obvious that the penguins had lost, their battered ships flew back into the open beak and the mother ship turned and sped off into the distance until it was merely a distant receding dot, and then nothing at all.

Epilogue - Ever After

The Human Colony on Centuri Prime was prospering well, with a second colony being built not far away. Although the Penguins frequently attacked from Centuri Secundus, with the aid of Mick's technology they drove them off easily every time. The doctor found a good suppressant for the Captain's hangover made with native plant life. The First Mate was elected the Planetary Governor. News reached the colonies that the Starbucks Empire had been defeated and the world was a democracy once more. More ships were on their way with more building materials, a much needed soda shipment, and due to a typographical error, fourteen cats and a Scottish terrier. It seemed a bright future for humanity, and Joe, by now having embraced the spirit of cliches, stepped into the alien sunset to utter those famous words and thus end the story:

"And they all lived happily ever after, The End."

16 July 2014

30 Things (Update & Revisions II)

No doubt, dear reader, you recall my MASSIVELY POPULAR list of 30 Things to do before I turn 30 and the BLOCKBUSTER SEQUEL where I updated it to reflect. Now that I have reached the halfway mark of my 20s, it is time for a MASSIVELY INFERIOR THIRD INSTALMENT.

Totally Incomplete (11/30)

  • Propose to a woman: Binary, and haven't yet, but definitely picked out a type of ring
  • (Still missing one - suggestions welcome)
  • Learn to play an instrument passably well
  • Eat at a 5 star restaurant
  • Visit every continent: 5/7 (missing Africa and Antarctica)
  • Learn to ride something with 4 legs or less than 4 wheels (bikes don't count): Really just need to apply for my Australian motorcycle licence ASAP
  • Travel to Uluru
  • Swim naked in the Pacific Ocean: SOON.
  • Purchase some land
  • Fly in a helicopter
  • Grow and eat my own food
In Progress (10/30)
  • Still Omitted:  Progress slow and boring
  • Get a tattoo: Now that I am in the ADF, want to check my design with them to make sure it gets approved
  • Write a novel: Written an outline for one, not sure if this will be my first yet though - I should decide for sure by the end of this year
  • Get a PhD: In progress!
  • Cook my way through a cookbook: In progress!
  • Become proficient in a martial art: Nothing besides my prior training, but as soon as I have time/$, I'll start researching options - important to get started by time I turn 27 to allow a few years for training!
  • Read at least half of 'The Great Books': STILL on Book 4 of Gateway to the Great Books, need to step up my reading game
  • Become fit enough to pass this
  • Spend a week in the woods: This will occur at some point during my ADF training
  • Put together a GOOD bag and BOAT: Sadly have dismantled these, so need to reconstruct!

Completed (9/30)
  • Become a member of the ADF (Reserve): As of a fortnight ago!
  • Save (in some form) at least $15,000 (AUS)
  • Go on a date without regard to cost (Thanks Margie!)
  • Give blood (Also Thanks Margie!)
  • Omitted and completed: With bonus subsequent mountain climb
  • Give away or sell all my excess junk after graduation
  • See a country music act live in concert
  • Have a research paper published: Still here!
  • Drive a car faster than 100 mph
I'd argue that this spread puts me at halfway, which seems fitting - I reckon the next year could see a few of my totally incomplete goals completed or started, and I'll definitely have filled in the missing one before July 17, 2015!

25 April 2014

Cold War Beer Pong

Cold War Beer Pong
I got a chance to design this game for a Cold War themed shindig, and I'm too proud of the rules not to share it. Please drink responsibly (or don't, I'm not your real dad).
    •  2 players = 16 cups, 3 beers (1 for proxy wars, 1 each side for Homeland and NATO/Warsaw)
    • 4 players = 32 cups, 7 beers (1 for small proxy wars, 1 each side for large proxy war, 1 each side for NATO/Warsaw, 1 each side for Homeland)
    • 8 players = 48 cups, 12 beers + 8 shots (or 8 more beers) (1 each side for each proxy war, 1 each side for NATO/Warsaw, 2 each side for Homeland, shots/extra beers for presidential/secretarial cups)  
  • HOMELAND: Your final Homeland cup can't be sunk until all your other cups are lost (a hit still counts for Espionage)
  • NATO/WARSAW PACT: Can be placed anywhere on your side
  • PROXY WARS: If you sink a cup on your own side, it is still removed (and does NOT count for Espionage)
  • NUCLEAR WAR: When your last cup is removed, your team launches a first strike on the opposing team, each of you shooting until you miss. Each cup sunk removes all adjacent cups as well. If the opposing team runs out of cups, victory is settled by one cup sudden death
  • ESPIONAGE (4/8 Players): When all members of your team sink cups in a round, you may 'steal' any non-presidential/secretarial cup from the opposing team and add it to your Homeland rack OR remove one use of the opposing team's presidential/secretarial cup (opposing team must drink it)
  • ASSASINATION/SUCCESSION (8 Players): Each team picks a presidential/secretarial cup in their Homeland. This cup contains either a shot (bourbon for USA, vodka for USSR) or a full beer. When this cup is sunk, it is drunk but replaced as long as your team has remaining leaders (4 total, suggested lists below)
    • USA: Truman → Eisenhower → Nixon → Reagan
    • USSR: Stalin → Khrushchev → Brezhnev → Gorbachev
4-Player Setup
2-Player Setup 
8-Player Setup
Final Thought: WOLVERINES!

13 February 2014

Liberty on the Rocks brings together freedom lovers around the world

Article originally published in the Indian Economist.

Interview with Co-founder and Executive Director Amanda Muell

Amanda Muell, a founder of Liberty on the Rocks, found herself disappointed with the limited options for socialization within the libertarian community. “The idea for the organization came about in 2008 when two colleagues and myself questioned ways to find younger libertarians in the Denver area. We all worked at the Independence Institute at the time, which is a free market think tank in Golden, Colorado. We were used to seeing people sixty and over at a majority of their events, which prompted us to consider organizing a happy hour rather than another lecture-based event.”

Starting with just fourteen people in a single bar in Denver, Colo., Liberty on the Rocks now boasts dozens of chapters across the world.

“The driving purpose is to connect and inform anyone interested or enthusiastic about libertarian principles,” says Muell. “We believe that a strong liberty movement requires passionate people, and to keep them involved you’ve got to make it fun. Relationships are also essential, as they can act as the glue that keeps someone coming to events and rethinking issues. We know that becoming a highly informed libertarian occurs over time, and usually after myriad books, videos and conversations. Liberty on the Rocks aims to keep people on that path of exploration until they feel fully comfortable talking to others about the philosophy of freedom.”
While most events are simple social gatherings, the scope of LOTR has grown with its success.

“Between 2012-2013, Liberty on the Rocks hosted nine educational workshops around the U.S. that focused on economics, philosophy and communications,” says Muell. “Local networks have also hosted speakers and guests like Larken Rose, Jeffrey Tucker, Robert Murphy, Radley Balko, and Stephen Kinsella, among others.”
Starting a local chapter of Liberty on the Rocks is a simple and rewarding process, Muell explains, “any libertarian-minded individual who wants to set up a [chapter] can start by going to www.libertyontherocks.org. From there they can get started creating their group online and organizing their first event. The national organization can help by providing an email address, and website along with a strategy call and/or email- based assistance where needed. From there it’s as simple as finding a local bar or restaurant, setting up a Facebook page, and marketing your events.”

The spread of Liberty on the Rocks has mirrored wider acceptance of ideas of liberty.

“There is no doubt the movement has grown over the last few years,” Muell explains. “It also seems to be younger generations that are the most enthusiastic about libertarian ideals, which is extremely positive. It used to be a small minority of mostly anti-social individuals, and was essentially devoid of women. Today those in the mainstream, both male and female of all walks of life, are flocking to this cause. And the beauty is that a majority of them just want to be left alone! This is refreshing to see, as political movements of the past tended to focus on imposing new rules and orders on the population.”

While Muell recognizes that government remains a major obstacle to the free market, she is enthusiastic about the Snowden leak, the increased popularity of Bitcoin and 3D printing, and the increasing push toward ending marijuana prohibition. “All of these present challenges to the government for different reasons,” says Muell. The first revealed to the American people just how much power the government has, and that it isn’t just used against discernible enemies. Secondly, technological innovations and services rivaling public monopolies, like 3D printing and Bitcoin, can make government a thing of the past by rendering their services obsolete. Finally, when it comes to marijuana legalization, the big win is the innocent people who won’t be going to jail for victimless crimes”

To capitalize on the expanding base of young libertarians, Muell emphasizes that “it’s important to stay connected to others who have similar values.”

“That doesn’t mean drop all your friends who aren’t libertarians, but please be sure to find some who are,” continues Muell. “It can be difficult to stay passionate about something you only hear others discuss on television or podcasts. To continue learning new ideas and discovering ways to live free, it helps to have friends who are doing the same. This also may be important one day when you decide to have children and want good role models in their life outside of you and your spouse. So go to events when you can and don’t be too shy to say hello to someone you haven’t met.”

There are countless opportunities for those interested in spreading the ideas of free markets and individual liberty. “As the movement grows, so do the ideas surrounding its advancement,” explains Muell. “Gone are the days when your only option was to join a campaign or run for office to be a liberty advocate. More people are finding there are other avenues they can take to be free. These can include educating the public on pertinent issues or inventing a new product or service to rival public monopolies. This is partly why more are joining the movement, because it’s not just about politics. Many libertarians are entrepreneurs, or everyday advocates who share ideas with friends and family, influencing those close to them. While short-term political victories can be positive and important for our freedom, so can technologies that may one day make governments obsolete. So if you love liberty, find what it is that you are most passionate about and go after it. We all have a purpose when it comes to advancing freedom.”

06 September 2013

Australian Federal Election 2013

WARNING: This post contains copious amounts of freedom and should not be consumed by the weak of heart of spirit! It should not be interpreted as how to vote material because I think that could get me into trouble? Authorized by Austen, Sydney (just in case)

Tomorrow is the 2013 Australian Federal Election, and the first time I will be voting in Australia! Here we do preferential voting, so you get to rank order the candidates from most to least appealing, and then one of the two major parties (the Liberal party and Labor party, which have spent the last few weeks trying to show the electorate how similar they can become without Tony Abbot merging with Kevin Rudd into some sort of chimerical Tovin Abbudd) gets elected anyway.

My first vote cast is for the lower house in the seat of Wentworth (a safe seat for the Liberal Party candidate Malcolm Turnbull) and my intended preferences are as follows:
  1. Sheil (Independent and all around fantastic candidate, not to mention preferencing an independent keeps electoral funding away from the major parties)
  2. Turnbull (Liberal Party - LP)
  3. Foxman (Palmer United Australia - PUP)
  4. Smith (Australian Labor Party - ALP)
  5. Robertson (The Greens - GP)
  6.  Beresford (Christian Democratic Party - CDP)
My second, and far more fun vote goes for the upper house and is a state wide election for six representatives (although my vote will only count toward one). It seems like the best above the line vote would be for the Republican Party of Australia, which will flow through some very pro-freedom parties before it hits the majors, and will not be likely to end up with any awful fringe group who have a shot at slipping through to a senate seat.

Of course, voting above the line is lamesauce, so I will be voting below the line - meaning I get to rank order all 110 candidates. My first attempt at preferences received a number of gushing accolades from some of the fine folk over at the Australian Libertarian Society's facebook group including:
"You did pretty shit."
"Awful list."
Not.that great really"

After some revisions, here is my latest list - if you seen anything strange or have any changes to recommend I'd love to hear them (but time is running out)!

  1. Layonhjelm (Liberal Democratic Party - LDP, Group A)
  2. Pettett (LDP, A)
  3. OBrien (Outdoor Recreation Party - ORP, V)
  4. De Lima (ORP, V)
  5. Beiger (Smokers Rights Party - SRP, W)
  6. Whelan (SRP, W)
  7. Hunt (Drug Law Reform - DLR, AD)
  8. Trimingham (DLR, AD) 
  9. Futter (Help End Marijuana Prohibtion - HEMP, G)  
  10. Olbourne (HEMP, G)
  11. Higson (Voluntary Euthanasia - VE, E)
  12. Mulhall (VE, E)
  13. Muirhead (Shooters and Fishers Party - SFP, AJ)
  14. Dunne (Australian Sex Party - ASP, P)
  15. Raye (ASP, P)
  16. Molloy (Pirate Party - PP, AO)
  17. Campbell (PP - AO)
  18. Koutalianos (No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics - NCT, B)
  19. McDowall (NCT, B)
  20. Jansson (Future Party - FP, K)
  21. Haggerty (FP, K)
  22. Tranter (Wikileaks Party - WP, I)
  23. Broinowski (WP, I)
  24. McNally (Republican Party of Australia - RPA, AL)
  25. Blake (RPA, AL)
  26. Myers (Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party - AMP, AQ)
  27. Kirkness (AMP, AQ)
  28. Lowe (Fishing & Lifestyle Party - FLP, Q)
  29. Dean (FLP, Q)
  30. Sinodinos (LP, Y)
  31. Carr (ALP, M)
  32. Stevens (Australian Voice Party - AVP, O)
  33. Francis (AVP, O)
  34. Black (AVP, O)
  35. Thompson (Non-Custodial Parents Party - NCP, AN)
  36. Thompson (NCP, AN)
  37. Ferguson (Senator Online - SO, D)
  38. Barry (SO, D)
  39. McKinnon (SO, D)
  40. Villaver (Australian Democrats - AD, AF)
  41. Wallace (AD, AF)
  42. Bryce (Secular Party - SP, AP)
  43. Owen (SP, AP)
  44. Cameron (LP, Y)
  45. Cameron (LP, Y)
  46. Williams (The Nationals - NP, Y)
  47. Hay (NP, Y)
  48. Rossiter (Family First - FF, AH)
  49. Hurley (FF, AH)
  50. Payne (LP, Y)
  51. Chhibber (ALP, M)
  52. Nelmes (ALP, M)
  53. Kolomeitz (ALP, M)
  54. Adamson (PUP, S)
  55. Wrighton (PUP, S)
  56. Mailler (Katter's Australian Party - KAP, N)
  57. Maka (KAP, N)
  58. Stephens (ALP, M)
  59. McCaffrey (Democratic Labour Party - DLP, C)
  60. Hanna (DLP, C)
  61. Bohm (Bullet Train for Australia - BTA, X)
  62. Glick (BTA, X)
  63. Whalan (F)
  64. Cooper (F)
  65. Wang (AG)
  66. O'Toole (AG)
  67. Brown (Building Australia Party - BAP, T)
  68. Symington (BAP, T)
  69. Carter (Carers Alliance - CA, H)
  70. Buckwalter (CA, H)
  71. Tanks (Australian Independents - AI, AC)
  72. Hirst (AI, AC)
  73. Bourke (Stable Population Party - SPP, AI)
  74. Spike (SPP, AI)
  75. Pearson (Animal Justice Party - AJP, AA)
  76. Vickers (AJP, AA)
  77. Cameron (ALP, M)
  78. Houseman (SFP, AJ)
  79. Clifford (Christian Democratic Party - CDP, L)
  80. Spies-Butcher (GP, R)
  81. Fraser (CDP, L)
  82. Findley(GP, R)
  83. Rahme (CDP, L)
  84. Ho(GP, R)
  85. Lions (CDP, L)
  86. Blatchford(GP, R)
  87. Peebles (CDP, L)
  88. Ryan(GP, R)
  89. Faehrmann (GP, R)
  90. Ash (Ungrouped)
  91. Nathan (Ungrouped)
  92. La Mela (Ungrouped)
  93. Poulsen (Ungrouped)
  94. Johns (Australian Protectionist Party - APP, Z)
  95. Grech (APP, Z)
  96. Dean (Stop CSG Party - SCP, AK)   
  97. Fraser (SCP, AK)Wallbridge
  98. Plumb (One Nation - ON, AR)
  99. McCulloch (ON, AR)
  100. Hanson (ON, AR)
  101. Watt (Uniting Australia Party - UAP, U) 
  102. Simonds (UAP, U)
  103. Somerfield (Rise Up Australia - RUA, J)
  104. Bishop (RUA, J)
  105. Dare (Socialist Alliance - SA, AM)
  106. McIlroy (SA, AM)
  107. Hambides (Socialist Equality Party - SEP, AE) 
  108. Beams (SEP, AE)
  109. Fraser (Australia First - AF, AB) 
  110. Wallbridge (AF, AB)
And there you have it! Ranging from the libertarians at the top to the national socialists at the bottom. Happy voting everyone!