Very Curious Artform – Strandbeest

Whilst being sick, I came across this very peculiar video:

The creations look eerily organic and uncanny alive and I have found the creators site very interesting, or,  as Caine would name it “a time sink”. It is a fascinating blend of art and engineering. I think that in a virtual PC simulation it could be combined with real evolutionary algorithms these beasts could really “evolve” into even more bizzare shapes.

It also reminded me of Caine, I think she would love it.

Brexit means Brexit means ….????

Oh my, I have stumbled onto the twitter account of that bumbling nationalist buffoon Nigel Farage and my blood began to boil.

What really gets up my nose about this posturing pustule is that not only has he not done any meaningful work to clean up the mess he helped to make – he only stands on the sidelines, making potshots adding to it even more – but that he still pretends that the daft referendum has represented democratically the will of the people.

It has not.

The ever so vapid Theresa May likes to repeat “Brexit means Brexit”,  as if it were some meaningful statement saying something.

It is not.

A popular theme among the Brexiters is “people have spoken” as if people were actualy asked what they want.

The were not.

There is one important point ignored by Brexiters over and over again – the referendum did not ask people what they want. It does not represent the will of the people as they say it. It cannot.

The question posed was “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” as if it were a binary vote. But it is not, as recent shenanigans in British government shows, it is a very complex issue which cannot be reduced to a simple binary. There is only one way  to stay in the EU – but there is a multitude of ways to leave. There never was a majority to leave – there was a majority to remain and multiple minorities with mutually exclusive ideas about what leave means to them which were lumped together under one umbrella because some idiot did not think things through (or perhaps did? nah I think that gives these bozos too much credit). And now those mutually exclusive ideas about what Brexit actually, really, means bear fruit in the inevitable inability to decide on a deal and stick with it, as the different brexiter fractions keep posturing and demanding and not willing to compromise on anything, which is actualy necessary in any functioning democracy.

The only democratic way forward is to put to people a second referendum, this time with a list of multiple viable options, just like in the indicative votes last week. I do not think it will happen. I think the destructive self-centered assholes and those dupes that voted for them are going to get their no-deal, because that is the default option if they manage to disrupt and obstruct long enough – and they are determined to do exactly that.

And thus the whole country is piloted by these people towards a crash in one huge and completely unnecessary Brexikaze, a fanatical and futile act of self-destruction almost inevitably bound to make more damage to UK than to that which they seek to destroy.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 29 – Crime

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Today, if I want to see the official crime rate in my country, I can just go to google and look it up. There are even handy pre-made comparisons with USA to be found. When I was a child, this was not the case, and essentially nobody knew what crime rate the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic actually has.

But it was not due to the nonexistence of internet as some might think. It was due to state’s secrecy about matters that might speak unfavourably about the regime.

Part of our education were occasional visits of schools by party dignitaries, local law-enforcement officers or border patrol officers etcetera. On several such occasions the talks veered into the territory of law trespassers and sometimes some kid has asked “how much crime X happens”? Invariably, the answer to this was “that is a state secret”. So nobody, except a few officials, had a chance to know pretty much anything specific.

But I do not want to talk about some generic crime rates today, I want to concentrate on one specific crime and how it was used to control people – unemployment, or, as it was officially called, “the crime of parasitism”. Under the regime, everyone had a right to a job, but that came with the duty to have a job. Every able person had a duty to work and it was literally against the law to not fulfill this duty.

And whilst it is reasonable to have measures to discourage or perhaps even punish slackers and hangers-on in a social state, that was not the only purpose and the only use of the law. Because since jobs were to great extent assigned centrally, the state had a huge control over what kind of job one can get, or whether one can get a job at all. And therefore political dissidents were sometimes pushed to jobs where it was clear that they are at odds with their qualifications and needs, so they could eventually be pushed towards joblessness – and thus criminalized. It was also a way to completely criminalize any form of sex work, which officialy did not exist so any sex worker was automatically a parasite without the regime having to acknowledge even the existence of sex workers publicly.

In TV there was a regular broadcast “Federal Criminal Headquarters Searches, Advises, Informats” where names and faces of searched criminals were shown so that general populace can help in finding them. I did not give it too much thought at the time – it was just one adult thing in the background – but I do remember hearing the phrase “is searched for the crime of parasitism” quite often. In retrospect today I wonder how many of those people actually were real moochers and how many were slowly and deliberately pushed out of society for being inconvenient to the reigning powers.

Slavic Saturday

My oral graduation exam in highschool* was not looked forward to by my Czech language and literature teacher.  All the others (Biology, Chemistry, German language) have expected me to do reasonably well or even excel, but he had some reservations. I already had a 1 for my essay writing, but the oral exam was essentially going to be about history of Czech literature, and I had great dislike towards learning that history.

The reasons for this were multiple. Firstly history was taught as a sequence of dates  and names to memorize, and I have always had very, very poor memory for numbers and names, despite having excellent memory in general. It is extremely difficult for me to remember birth dates, even of the closest people I know. Secondly I was never convinced by the argument that learning history is important in order to avoid repeating mistakes, because I saw very early on that the whole of history actualy consists of repeating said mistakes by people who knew about them. And thirdly I did not go on well with that teacher on personal level.

So my knowledge of Czech literary history and theory was very, very sketchy. I have honestly tried my best to memorize all the dull and unpalatable shit that I was supposed to know for the exam, but it just did not hold. About the only thing I had a really detailed knowledge about was Karel Čapek, because I liked his books and I have read everything he wrote that I could get my hands on. The teacher knew this and later on I learned that he actually expressly said that he is apprehensive of my exam because “Čapek is all (Charly) knows”.

I was lucky during my exam. I have drawn a question where the main component was some poetry shit I knew nearly nothing about, and secondary question was something vaguely connected to Karel Čapek. I took my chance when preparing my notes and during talking I managed to drift to Čapeks works just after a few sentences and I stayed there talking in minute detail for the whole 15 minutes the exam took. The teacher, relieved, has let me. The observing teacher (an independent assessor from another school) did not intervene either, for whatever reason. And so I got lucky and passed.

Actually, to say that I liked Čapek is an understatement, I admired him greatly. Čapek is in my opinion unsurpassed in Czech literature. Very progressive for his time, and, above all, a fervent pacifist. In today’s world he would probably be left of Bernie Sanders, but he would not be radical leftist in a real sense of the word “radical” not how it is viewed in Anglophone world today, where anyone arguing that not everything should be privatized is labeled as radical leftie. He might even be accused of centrism by true radicals.

Čapek was very outspoken critic of Nazi Germany and its policies, so much so that his personal safety was threatened by local Nazi sympathisers. Allegedly some friends recommended to him to carry a weapon for self-defense after he received death threats, but his commitment to pacifism was such that all he could manage to do was to carry a small starter pistol and when confronted about it he replied “I know that I won’t hurt anyone this way”. Many of his works center around criticizing authoritarian regimes, social injustices and war horrors, and there is absolutely no uncertainty about where he stood on social issues.

But he did not like Marx and communism. And neither do I. And to this day I think his essay “Why I am not a communist” bears weight. Some parts are of course not well aged after nearly a hundred years (the casual sexism f.e.), some parts can be seen as predictive of the massive social and scientific failure that was Russia under Stalin. If we are to learn from the mistakes of the past, I would everyone recommend to go, read that essay and think about it.


*the closest translation I can get to anglophone equivalents)

 

Even More Books…

Well, one more book. I have about twenty knife and swords books in the sights for future purchases, but I am still in the middle of reading the first seven I already have purchased. The flu-like illness that has been bugging me on and off for two weeks is unfortunately not very conducive to reading, especially to reading in a foreign language.

But Marcus was so very, very kind and has sent me this beauty, which I have not seen offered anywhere here. I must say it is a lovely book on first sight and it became a cherished possession instantly.

Now I had not planned on buying a book specifically about japanese knives, because I intend leaving making japanese knives to the Japanese, but there is no denying that they have a reputation of being superb tools so it won’t hurt to know about them. Quite the opposite, I am sure there is a lot of knowledge in this book that will be beneficial to me and I am very much looking forward to reading it.

However this makes me think a little – all the knives that I have made so far and that I intend to make in the future are my own designs and represent my aesthetical preferences as well as my style of using a knife. And whenever I look at works of other knife-makers (which I do not do very often), often I see that everyone develops a distinctive style. For example Bob Loveless has been renown for drop-point small hunting knives, Walter Sorrels sells mostly very pointy and straight, tanto-style all-purpose knives, Stefan Santangelo seems to like knives which have a slight forward angle between the blade and the handle with a little kink in it etc. I have no doubt that all these knives are perfectly functional and comfortable to use. There is no single “correct” knife design.

I find it remarkable how expressive can be a piece of craft that is essentialy just a sharpened sheet of metal with a piece of wood to hold it with, even when looking at just the outline.


Incidentally you can see two things in the last picture. Firstly, my left middle finger is nearly completely healed. There is still slight swelling and an area with tickling-burning sensation when touched, but it gets constantly, albeit very slowly, better. Secondly, in case you are wondering, that is my school pencil-case, about thirty years old by now.

YouTube Video: Tod’s Workshop

“You make one knife, you make another, and you never stop.” True words.

Tod Todeschini has put out a very short lovely video promoting his workshop.

I do not think that I will manage to pull it off with making knives for a living, to be honest. As in every endeavor, a bit of luck is required and the competition is tough. So even if I manage to do everything right (which I won’t, I never do), success is not guaranteed.  But I am definitively going to give it a try, because I am more than fed-up with being corporate drone.

And when I will be forced to seek employment again, I will do my best to avoid US owned shareholder companies like the plague they are.

Racialization of Muslims

In the light of the Christchurch terrorist attack, I think it is appropriate to try to put to rest, on this blog at least, the “Islam is not a race” argument so often thrown around in atheist circles. I admit to making this clueless blunder in the past as well, and really meaning it. But when arguing with actual unapologetic racists I had to point out some realities to them – like that Roma people are not in fact different race from Europeans, because we both stem from common and fairly recent Indo-European stock. And like that Arabs and Jews are also not different races from each other – and are not a different race from Europeans for the same reasons as Roma people are. That has made me to realize that racism is not, at least not only, what I thought it is, and that islamophobia is a real thing, alhtough the word itself can be used disingenuously (like any other word).

When I see a hijab (or a cross or any other overt religious symbol), I see a person being shackled by the throes of superstition, but still a person no fundamentaly different from you or I. But when a racist sees a hijab, they also do see an “other” in a very fundamental sense. Because to them race is not actually about biology (because biology does not support any form of racism) but about politics of power that merely uses biology and science in general to construct post hoc and ad hoc arguments for holding onto or acquiring said political power.

For the rest of the argument I give word to Philosophy Tube, who has made two excellent videos explaining the process of racialization of human groups and the whats, why’s and how’s behind it.

Slavic Saturday

Czechs and Polish languages are reasonably similar. Not mutually intelligible, but similar enough that we can somewhat understand each other when spoken very, very slowly (which can be hard, especially for Poles). Our histories are also reasonably similar – both our nations wandered in from east and south, displaced local Germanic and Celtic nations, both established their foot on the ground by fighting and subjugating smaller slavic tribes and selling them to slavery to richer tribes to the south and west. Both eventually became big kingdoms of significant clout and with great ambitions.

But whilst the Lands of the Bohemian Crown were torn from within with Hussite wars and subsequently came as a whole under Habsburg rule, the Poland-Lithuanian commonwealth was not only torn from within by squabbles between its different religious and national groups (like Orthodox Cossacks vs. Catholic Poles), but the part of commonwealth inhabited by Poles was itself totally plundered by Swedes and in few centuries torn from outside and divided between Austria, Prussia and Russia. This difference in historical development has, to my mind, played a significant role in one of the most significant cultural differences between our nations today.

I was blissfully unaware of this difference until my twenties when I decided that a literate and educated person should have at least passing knowledge of the writings of Henryk Sienkiewicz. I have already read one of his books as a child – In Desert and Wilderness – but that is more or less just an adventure book, nothing special (with extra helpings of racism, which flew over my head at that time). I have decided to start with Quo Vadis, because that is his most prominent book internationally and has brought him in the end the Nobel Prize in Literature.

And thus my attempt at reading his works started … and immediately ended. After I have read Quo Vadis I was left with a huge “What The Actual Fuck Did I Just Read?!?” feeling and I could not bring myself to pick up that book or any other of Sienkiewicz’s works ever again. I was appalled, I was totally disgusted and repelled. The writing is excellent, I have no reason to not believe that it is historically well researched, the story is captivating but…

The whole book reeked to me of christian, specifically catholic, propaganda. And this is the difference that I was talking about.

The Czech nation has undergone internal religious divide around Jan Hus, a significant portion of it has challenged the authority of the Holy Roman Church, was beaten into submission and had Catholicism forced it. But it retained some religious diversity and freedom throughout – and ever since then there always were Catholic Czechs as well as Protestant Czechs living with each other in no insignificant numbers. When national revival came, Czechs did identify mostly around shared language and religion has always played second fiddle (even though Catholics were seen as “no true Czechs” by some, that point of view never really became mainstream) and that fiddle became more and more insignificant with each generation ever since.

Polish nation was beaten up from outside and divided into different empires, each with different ruling religion – Orthodoxy in Russian Empire, Protestantism in Prussia and a teensy bit in the predominantly catholic Austria-Hungaria. And although they were not persecuted due to their religion per se in their respective parts throughout this whole time, language as well as religion remained at the core of Polish identity for most, because the non-polish invaders were also mostly non-catholics.

And thus, through a complicated historical route we arrive at present situation. Czechs are one of the world’s leaders in “Not Giving A Fuck” about religion, and Poles are still predominantly actively observant catholics. Czech Republic has freedom of religion, freedom from religion and freedom to say just about anything about any religion you like, as long as you are not engaging in hate speech. Republic of Poland has still has anti-blasphemy laws on books and you can get into trouble for making a mildly amusing parody video making fun or being critical of the Pope.

Youtube Video: Brexit, Briefly: REVISITED!

There’s three things, pick two. I use it often in engineering, where the corners of the triangle are Cheap, Fast, Good and you can only pick two. Managers always, always want to pick all three, just as well as the UK seems to want to pick now. Have your pie and eat it is the motto of the day.

I cannot even snigger at the stupidity of Britons who voted to leave, since I have no doubt that had Czech Republic had a similar referendum, our results would also be similar. Because despite the objectively measurable fact that we are much better of in the EU than we were outside it, a lot of people yearn for the good old days.

Good old days that never were. If I were to pick only one reason for why EU is a massive political success despite all its flaws it would be this:

There was not a war between members of EU for two generations. Prior to that, the whole EU history was stumbling from one war to another, and the scars from those wars still did not heal.

Killing and Dismembering an HDD

My parents PC started to act up a few weekends ago. I knew the motherboard was defect already, so I have decided to buy everything new, including an SSD – but I thought the old HDD can still be used for data storage. I was ronk. When I built the thing, it was still acting up, and finally I got the message that S.M.A.R.T. detects problems with the drive. So I decided to nix it and throw it out. It did not contain any important information, but even so I wiped it repeatedly, then performed full format, and then I disassembled it, run the platters over with a screwdriver and with strong neodymium magnet. Hopefully not even Nick Fury should now be able to recover the data that once was there, and should he go through the trouble being pissed at finding a bunch of flowers and gingerbread pictures.

When building it back together I did not build in one crucial part – the two half-moon shaped neodymium magnets that you can see to the left of the center in the photo. They are very slim and very, very strong – it is not easy to pry them apart in hand. I decided that they are simply too nice in themselves to throw into recycling and they might be useful in my workshop later on.

Two days later I got an idea how to use them and they might prove to be THE solution to a problem that I was looking for for over a month now, or at least a good part towards a solution. I hope to try that out soon, the weather is getting warmer, the flu or whatever was trying to kill me seems to have failed, so hopefully next weekend I will be able to resume working on knives.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Why I (Almost) Always First do and Then Learn

I have an acute case of opinions, and I have a platform. Therefore I am going to inflict them on you. Lets get ready to ramble…

During my life I have learned a lot of different stuff – building and installing computers and programming in VBA as well as masonry, plumbing, carpentry etc. Jack of all trades and all that. That is nothing exceptional, most homeowners here have at least the basic of some of those skills. But some of the skills that I have tried or intend to try my hand on – like knife-making, leather work or wood carving – require not only a lot of finicky skill, but also a lot of knowledge.

My approach to acquiring said knowledge was, is, and will remain, maybe somewhat illogical from an outsider’s point of view, but I found out that it works the best for me. I hasten to add though, that I am only using it when there are not real stakes regarding safety and/or urgency to be had in the matter – if there are, I pay for experts and craftsmen to do the job quickly and properly the first time.

That approach is this – I start with some rudimentary knowledge and dive right into it, start big, fail on so many levels and end up with a result that has so many flaws that it is pitiful at best (like my first knife, that I regrettably lost).  Then I think about what went wrong, read some more information, try again, start again big, fail a bit less and get something that I need not be ashamed of, although it is of course still very short of being a masterpiece, even an “apprenticepiece” – like my second knife:

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

All those failures do not stop me of course from ramping up the ambitions for the next project(s), where I learn from my previous mistakes and boldly introduce completely new ones. Like in the knife I have made for my father’s fiftieth birthday and a knife I made for myself:

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

 

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

And so on and so forth. Only after each failure, will I really seriously start to research and read some serious theory on the things that I just tried to do and see what the actual craftsmen have to say. And through this process, where I first try, fail and then read, I eventually get to something half-decent, like Ciri’s dagger, which nevertheless is still somewhere in the middle of my learning curve (and probably everything ever will be).

One reason for this approach is fairly mundane – books are expensive, our local library is crap and internet with a lot of information freely available was not a thing for first half of my life. But I hold onto it even now – for example I will start reading on leather work only after I actually start to do some work in it, not before (I have actually done some small leather work – the two last sheaths shown, but nevermind). The same plan goes for engraving metal, or inlaying etc. Why do I persist in this manner of doing things, where I inevitably reinvent the wheel multiple times over? Could I not save myself a lot of trouble and time learning the theory first? After all, that is how a lot (not all) of our school system works – a huuuge chunk of theory upfront and then maybe some medium to big-ish chunk of praxis.

Well, even discarding the fact that reinventing the wheel for yourself is tremendous fun, and having fun is the whole purpose of a hobby, I think following chunks of praxis with theory and not vice versa has a practical advantage as well, at least for me.

I have read first three books out of my new purchases, those on the left in the picture. Most of the info in them was not new to me since I already tried like 90% of the techniques shown and I knew all the theory. So I only got about 10% worth of new knowledge, which does not seem like much – just a few tricks, really. But if I started with only these books without having any clue whatsoever about how thinks work in praxis, I would get a lot less out of them on first reading, most of the content would go over my head and I would forget it straightaway. And when later on trying to put the things into praxis, I would have to get back to them and re-read them, maybe multiple times, whilst trying the things and failing at them anyway. Whereas having a lot of failures and intuitive understanding as well as theoretical knowledge of the matter already has allowed me to read them fairly quickly and absorb the little info that I did not yet have much more permanently (I think) because it connects smoothly with my past experience and knowledge.

There is of course one trapping to this “try first” approach, and a big one, that should be avoided – developing bad work habits that have to be un-learned. The distance between trying something and learning the accompanying theory should not be too big either way, because it is detrimental to learning both ways.