Book Corner 2021.1

John Cleese’s memoir of his life up to the moment Python started recording its first show.

It’s a pretty low-key life, as I was expecting. But the Cleesean humor is consistently there. (Fun fact – surname “Cleese” was originally “Cheese.” So in a parallel universe, we are calling it “Cheesey” humor.)

Cleese grew up an only child in the southwest of England and had a loving father and difficult mother. He went to law school at Cambridge, and graduated, with an offer to work at a law firm; but somehow comedy pulled him away. It’s funny to think Cleese was a bona fide lawyer and Graham Chapman an actual doctor, as one watches them act out their ludicrous skits.

The happiest segment of Cleese’s life feels to me like the two years he taught various subjects to 10-year-olds at his alma mater, while waiting for his place at Cambridge to open up. His love for the place is evident… as is the other love that shines through even more, that for his writing partner and brilliant, wonderful, wonderfully “complex” and difficult lifelong friend, Graham Chapman, RIP.

The book came out in 2014 and ends with a (forgotten, by me anyway) Python reunion. Terry Jones was still alive. Cleese gets in some surprisingly sharp yet not-quite-cruel digs at Jones only at the end; and, throughout, makes very cutting remarks about Terry Gilliam – I had not heard of any ill will between the two of them, but by the end I was feeling like it was all a big joke.

The Pythons were amazing. Cleese later won acclaim for FAWLTY TOWERS and FISH CALLED WANDA, but apart from at most two or three episodes of TOWERS, none of this later work lives up to his collaborative Pythonian work. He and Chapman lent the logic that balanced the ludicrosity offered up by the other Pythons. Like the Beatles, they were more than the sum of their parts; and every part was indispensible, perhaps Cleese more than any other. Just try to watch the final season after he’d left the show. It’s like trying to listen to a Ringo Starr album. (  )

Fiber 2021: 1

Here’s my first yarn of the new year. I’m going to do solids for a while now. I also broke out the loom:

No, I don’t know what it’s going to be, if anything. Don’t ask me. Everything is ultimately useless.

I saw something recommending you begin each day thinking of three very specific thing to be grateful for, and one great thing that happened in the last 24 hours. This is the greatest thing that happened in the last 24 hours:

Spicy beer. That’s all I’ve got.

PS: I’ve added number of vaccinations to the daily COVID statistics that I keep. We (Vermont) are up to 15,478. A 4,000-jump from a few days ago. We should be going much, much faster, but I’ll take heart where I can.

Its Days Are Numbered

I love Tree.

Meanwhile, in Burlington yesterday…

We went to Burlington on a small errand which turned out to be a bit of a fail. We walked up & down Church. We only went into Homeport, for my errand, and Kiss the Cook, because they were keeping the door open & that made me feel good about their ventilation. At KtC, X saw a pie plate for cheaper than what he had just recently paid online for the same. Although it was in the 30s, there was a cold breeze and no sun, so we felt colder than I’d hoped we would. Altogether, a lot of things to feel down about. On the upside, we stopped for refreshment at an outdoor kiosk specializing in Frenchy baked goods and drinks. X got a ham sandwich and I got a Belgian hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was the greatest. There’s nothing better than real hot chocolate made out of chocolate and not from a mix. Like drinking a hot candy bar.

I didn’t feel great but I didn’t feel awful, seeing all the places of business that were verboten for us to go into. I felt like that world was not gone forever, but rather just waiting to burst into life again. It’s not just that I want to go to a restaurant per se. We like to go to different places. Walk into a store with some odd thingamabobs in it. X is drawn into little details most people don’t see. He will see something odd in a store that catches his fancy and he just lights up, gets lost exploring it. It’s like the world is our museum. That’s what I miss.

Book Corner 2020.59

by Matthew Leising

A double story – the founding of Ethereum; and the $55 million heist of its cryptocurrency, ether, in 2016.

Written by a journalist and based entirely on first-person interviews, it’s got credibility and an in-depth perspective. Leising spends a lot of time speaking with and admiring wunderkind founder Vitalik Buterin, Russian-Canadian child-prodigy eccentric genius who saw the potential of blockchain to do more than just serve as a ledger of a digital currency. The beauty of Ehtereum, the Avis to Bitcoin’s Hertz, the number-two-trying-harder, is that its ledger doesn’t just store coins or tokens or static things. It also stores programs, “smart contracts”, which can DO things to the things. You can have literal contracts. You can do crowdfunding. You can do anything you can dream up and code in their programming language, Solidity.

But it also stores cryptocurrency, ether, the “gas” that makes the contracts go, and a speculative currency in its own right. And basically, one day a hacker found a bug in a big important “smart contract” which allowed him to sneak in and steal ether, over and over again.

He was stopped. White-hat programmers first went in and exploited the same bug to “steal” as much ether as they could to keep it safe from the thief and be able to return it to its rightful owners… but then the hacker snuck into the stolen ether, too.

So they had to decide what to do… one option was called the “hard fork,” which meant basically rewriting history so that the hack never happened. Ether is, well, ethereal – it doesn’t exist except in the blockchain, so, why not? You can code whatever you want and make it so the hack never happened. But many objected to this, including Vitalik, as “icky.” You’re not supposed to do that. The thing about blockchains is they’re supposed to be immutable. In fact, the thief didn’t really “steal” anything or do anything wrong, right? In theory, he just ran the program a certain way, doing something that it allowed him to do. There was no fundamental bug in Ethereum. It was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. Not the hacker’s fault somebody coded something in a smart contract that they didn’t intend to.

Well, the other option was to basically invalidate the stolen ether – they could make it so that it would no longer be tradeable for other currency, making it worthless.

They chose the hard fork. This isn’t a spoiler. Anyone who cares knows.

It was a pretty good book… never really got bogged down in anything that would be over an interested reader’s head, and never got boring. (  )

Stay-in-cation and Schloot

So, mission accomplished for first Day Off of the week: I didn’t get depressed. I set myself various goals and hit them. The trick was that I would only have to spend 1 hour total on any one task. If I didn’t feel like doing something, I could goad myself by remembering it was only one hour.

So belatedly, here’s a photo of Xmas schloot.

Clockwise from top left:

  • a coconut scented candle
  • an out-of-print book showing weavings from the Victoria & Albert Textile Museum
  • a book spelling-bee puzzles (these are fun)
  • a wine stopper – but why stop?
  • a tea holder – made in Japan of cherry bark
  • a vanilla scented candle (there are 2 vanilla and 1 coconut)

I’m surprised X bought scented candles. He’s normally quite opposed. He must have liked these (he smelled ’em before he bought ’em).

The tea holder is funny because three people gave me tea this season.

Next Mix

This should be contrasty enough.

I’m retiring the daily update for the new year. I stay home constantly. I’m going to make one more big whizzbang charitable contribution in 2020 and then rest my finances for a while. I do reserve the right however to chat about what’s for dinner whenever I feel like it.

I have this whole coming week off, even though there is not a damn thing I can do with it, just because I thought it would be mentally healthy to … I don’t know, I would say not work for a week, but I wasn’t working anyway. Between big-picture idleness (the big reason I jumped on that rotational position), end-of-year idleness, and I guess Chris-isn’t-going-to-be-here-come-January-anyway idleness, I was spending almost all my hours listening to podcasts about blockchains & digital currency in the hopes of learning something to help me navigate my way around Tech Lab next year. I have no idea what is going to be expected of me in my new position, and I’d say that’s scary, except it’s not, because I haven’t the foggiest idea what to be scared of.