The accidental time traveller

From the department of abandoned ideas

For a long time I’ve had an entirely irrational fear of being sucked into a freak time warp and being deposited back in, say, the 12th century. It’s the kind of worry that, as a child, makes you carry around things like a swiss army knife, a magnifying glass, and a small quantity of string at all times.

Over time the fear has mellowed into a moderate worry. Now, when I think about falling into a temporal manhole, I worry that I don’t know enough sports scores off by heart to make a killing with (in case I get deposited in the mid-20th century), or that I have forgotten too many basic mechanical inventions to patent (in case I find myself in pre-industruial-revolution Britain), or that I don’t know how to locate a safe, natural source of caffeine. That’s a biggie.

Last year I had been thinking about setting up a web site specifically for the accidental time traveller: a kind of knowledge base full of things you could usefully memorize to make your stay in a far-flung age more bearable. Lists of sports scores, election results, how to manufacture simple chemicals, simple yet profitable inventions, self-defence techniques, techniques for figuring out exactly when and where you are (in the absence of nearby settlements), etc. In the end, though, it seemed more effort than it was worth. So the domain name is still available, if anyone wants to adopt the idea.

Related links

  • Knowing how to make explosives is probably a good start.

Where bookbinding meets politics

Combining fine craftsmanship with a wicked eye for a political commentary. That’s my girl!

“As part of my desire to encourage a little more civility in American politics, I have decided to give a gift to someone whose politics I disagree with. Specifically, I’m sending a handbound copy of the Constitution to President George W. Bush.”

Advances in golf technology, 1989-2004

I used to be a decent golfer. Back in 1989, in my last year of high school, I had a handicap of 14. Then I went to university and discovered trampolining and MUDs girls and booze, and it all went out the window. Ironically, my university was St. Andrews, which is also the home of golf. Even with the enormous discount that students and residents get, guess how often I played the hallowed Old Course in the four years I was there? Exactly once.

Since leaving university, I’ve generally played golf about three or four times a year. That handicap of 14 is now long forgotten, even though I do pull the occasional magic round out of my hat. As a matter of fact, I had one just last week. Since we bought Alex his first set of golf clubs for his 3rd birthday, he and I have been going along to the local driving range once or twice a week. All the practice paid off. When Scott and I played Longniddry on Monday, I managed to score a grand 90. Okay, so it’s a par 68 course, but the last time I broke 100 anywhere was back in 1997. I even had a short putt for 89 on the 18th, but I fluffed it. The last time I broke 90 was, I think, 1990. Yowza.

Anyway, what I wanted to write about in this entry was the difference between golf equipment now and back in 1989. First of all: golf bags have come a long way since then. The bag I had since 1989 had one shoulder strap, and when you put it down, it lay on the ground. Last week I bought a fantastically lightweight new bag with two shoulder straps (for carrying the bag backpack-stylee) and a built in fold-out stand. All this was supplied for the decidedly un-princely sum of £17.99. Carrying a bag of clubs over both shoulders is a great advance. No more aching shoulders at the end of a round.

Next: balls. I remember paying about 10 Dutch guilders (about £3) for a sleeve of three moderate-quality balls in 1989. Last week I bought fifteen decent balls for £7.99. That’s half the price they were fifteen years ago, without even having to take inflation into account. And I’m sure the balls feature spangly new composite core technology, with advanced dimple patterns for extra feel and distance. Or whatever.

Lastly: woods. In the 1980s metal woods were all the fashion. Persimmon was out, aluminium was in. Metal woods were lighter, cheaper to manufacture, and could be die-cast in clever ways to optimize the sweet spot. The 1990s, it seems, were all about big woods. With clubheads the size of dinner plates, these babies make my tiny 80s-style metal woods look puny. Whenever I pull them out of my bag, I can feel the amused and somewhat pitying stares of other golfers upon me. It almost feels like I’m walking around with hickory-shafted clubs. I’m a quaint golfing throwback to another century.

I’ve upgraded my bag and my balls. How long will it be before I upgrade my woods as well? At the range on Wednesday I was hitting my 3 wood quite well. My driver, however, has never been a pipeline to good scores, so I’d say there’s at least a chance of my moving into the 21st century at some point this year….

The day after tomorrow

Some thoughts after having been to see The Day After Tomorrow this evening:

  • I was reminded a lot of the book Mother Of Storms by John Barnes. Barnes had better science, I seem to recall. The global disaster played out over a longer timespan, and didn’t involve quite so much ice. Lots of wind and rain, though. Worth a read if you enjoyed TDAT.
  • As is always the case with large-scale disaster scenarios, I start to wonder just how much of the world’s population we could lose, and still retain a technologically advanced civilization. Whether it’s a comet impact or a plague that kills 9 out of every 10, how much of a knock could our society take, and still remain standing?
  • The trailer for I, Robot made my blood run cold. Asimov’s robot stories centre around a fundamentally logical, rational premise: the three laws of robotics. The stories are generally intricate, thoughtful, and calm. Seeing masses of robots running amok in the trailer, looking and acting like a bunch of mechanical Star Wars stormtroopers, made me break out in a sweat just thinking how bad this film might be.