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04/12/2003

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Latham: Opposition Leader

Well it looks like Australian politics might start to get interesting again. Frankly, I could be convinced to vote for Latham. The more he looks like Paul Keating, the more he might actually be more liberal (in the original sense of the word) than Howard.

Especially if Howard does more examples of outright corruption like that Ethanol subsidy thing. Giving a subsidy to some industry, dominated by one company, and for no good reason, is just wrong. And totally opposed to so-called Liberal party policy. Then to have the main company be a major contributor to the government's political party... it stinks.

Which leads to another point: The CEO of the company proclaimed he WASN'T a Liberal party supporter, because he donated heaps to the Labor party as well. Isn't that worse?

I don't get it, if someone (like the Ethanol company) proclaims that they give money to BOTH parties, surely that is almost an admission that they are just bribes? (Or protection money, depending on how you look at it.) Why else would you pay BOTH parties? They clearly can't both win. It can't be because you enjoy watching more political ads on TV. There is no legitimate explanation.

As far as I'm concerned, there should be established blind trusts for each political party. You can donate as much as you want, but the party has no idea who gave what. THEN we'll see who supports the parties, and who was just hoping for something in return.

01/12/2003

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Culture Shock

So I'm reading Diary in America, the story of an Englishman travelling through North America in the late 1830s. And I get to a section on Duels. And naturally the civilized Englishman is disgusted with the violent and barbaric Americans with their duels to the death.

He relates the story of a duel between a member of Congress and a critical Newspaper Editor. The congressman was a fine shot, who practised everyday with his rifle, and after being challenged to a duel increased his practise to hours every day. The challenger, by contrast, had relatively little practise with a firearm of any sort.

The day of the duel dawned, they both went out with their rifles, and the well practised congressman was shot dead by the beginner newspaperman.

The congressman was honored with a full state funeral, featuring the US congress, President, Supreme court and the like. And the English commentator was disgusted. In England this would never have happened. In England such a man would be a common criminal, an attempted murderer who died in the attempt. In England...

And all along the modern reader is nodding his head. Yes of course. A barbaric act by barbaric people. Yes the English were too civilized for such nonsense, much like ourselves. Yes this author has the right of it, yes.. WHAT THE HELL?!

Because now we read the reasons for the condemnation. It turns out that duels for honor are still performed in England. The great outrage is that the man dared to PRACTISE!!! A true English gentleman would never PRACTISE, and certainly not before a duel. No, an Englishman would go to his duel relying on luck and inborn ability and NOTHING ELSE. If an Englishman kills another in a duel, that is a matter of honor, but if he dared practise his marksmanship, then he was a murderer because he was planning to gain an unfair advantage.

All of a sudden the modern reader has an about face. The Americans may have been viscous brutes, but the English were completely insane. All of a sudden we sympathise with the Americans against the TOTAL LUNACY of the English criticism. With a nasty shock we realize that if we want to understand the psychotic bloodlust of Islamic Fascism, we need only look at our own ancestors of 170 years ago.

And no, saying your ancestors don't come from England or America doesn't get them off the hook. In The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941) that I am also reading at the moment, we find that the last witch to be burned in Ireland was in the 1920s. The 1920s. Of course they are still burning witches right now in Africa (not to mention eating them), but the fact is that even the good old British Isles were hardly civilized till after World War 2.

28/11/2003

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4th Sign of Insanity

So... if you find yourself laughing at the funny bits in a Hazardous Materials Safety Data Sheet... is that a bad sign?

27/11/2003

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Transport Temptations

There is a twin turbo Lexus on Ebay at the moment for $10k. The engine in those is basically a Skyline GTR engine (Both based on the same design), and apparently capable of up to 650 hp without internal modification. And I've actually met the guy who's selling it previously and seen two of his other cars, which were in TOP condition. Only problem is that I'm saving my money at the moment to pay the mortgage at the end of the month. And even if I could get a 7k extension to my Visa limit... I'd have to find the boost leak in my current car before selling it.

On the bright side I found 3 filing cabinets and a wardrobe last night. Really. I just walked out to the bins and there were 3, 2-door filing cabinets. One of them was a bit banged up from dropping it in the bin, but the others were fine. And there was a big metal filing cupboard (2 m tall) as well.

So we have filing cabinets now.

Sydney is weird like that. People just throw furniture away on the side of the street. Washing machines, TVs, chairs, all sitting there for the taking. I haven't seen it in any other city.

Alternative History

In the book, The Passage, that I mention below, the hero finds herself with what appears to be the ability to travel back in time. She doesn't seem to be able to influence events however.

This leads to the interesting question: if you can witness any event in history, without influencing it (so telling your earlier self the winning numbers for the $30 million dollar lottery is out), what do you choose?

Besides the obvious choice of seeing Jesus.

This train of thought leads to what do you do when you CAN influence events. Reading some more books by Harry Turtledove shows a variety of different worlds where things turned out differently. He shows a nice amount of variety by having one (where the South won the American Civil War) turning out worse, and another (where the American revolution failed) turning out better.

But most people zero in on how World War 2 could have been different.

Here, most people think about how Germany could have won. In general, the earlier the changes were made, the better. A Germany that never attacked France or any other western country, and only attacked the Soviets as a "war against communism", could probably have obtained British and American HELP against the twin evils of Russia and Japan. Instead they fought both sides, and lost.

A great many other people concentrate on the different things the Axis powers did wrong. How Germany should have bombed Radar stations and Airfields rather than London; how they should have put resources into submarines instead of V weapons and battleships, how the Japanese should have concentrated on Indonesia and India, and never gone near Pearl Harbour.

But as a practical matter, if I were to find myself in WW2, I wouldn't want to give advice to Germany or Japan, I'd want to help our side. So what could we have done better. For some reason, this is hardly ever mentioned. But I have a few ideas:

Not that I'll ever have the chance to put it into practise, but you have to wonder why it's always what the Germans did wrong, not the other side. I know, I know, no-one ever wants to admit that our side was anything less than perfect. But still...

13/11/2003

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Transport Revolutions

OK, yeah, Jay was right, this makes a stupid Segway look like a pogo stick.

12/11/2003

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Matrix Revolutions

Saw it last night. Was not impressed.

There seemed to be two main faults. The first is that they have suffered from the same problem as the X-Files. They built up a bigger and bigger, more complex and convoluted plot, and then didn't know how to finish it. The X-Files ended up just trailing off into constant repetitions of the earlier stories, and never resolved anything. (I personally think they should have finished with the Hollywood Zombie/Lazarus Bowl episode. They jumped the shark after that.)

With the Matrix movies, they started off with a logically consistant (by movie standards) world where you could get magic and super powers without violating the laws of physics. Then they expanded the superpowers into the outside world in the second movie, and then they introduced more plot twists, and then they built up to a final climatic battle... and they didn't really have a way to finish it off in a way consistant with the original premise. So they just said "So he got magic powers and saved the world, the end."

It was very unfulfilling.

By comparison, Star Wars was much better. Everything starts off in a certain set of rules and follows those consistantly to a final showdown that is in keeping with everything that has gone before. The rules themselves can be criticized, but there was a clear direction.

The second major complaint was the battle scenes. They tried to make them bigger and more wild than before, but this resulted in the action just getting faster and faster, until it was impossible to follow, and unrealistic for humans (in the outside of the matrix fights) to be doing it. Brilliant special effects but you couldn't follow them because they were too fast.

Other complaints are the main love interest (Trinity) isn't good looking, and the movie follows the standard Hollywood rules of never having interracial couples, (unless that is part of the plot). To find the so-called progressive and socially liberal hollywood types still following the rules of the KKK in this area is just wierd. I mean it's SEX! Hollywood disobeys the rules when it comes to sex any chance it gets. What is going on with the racial segregation then? It's just spooky.

10/11/2003

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The Passage

Much earlier I reviewed Bellwether by Connie Willis. I mentioned that my only complaint was that it was too short. I would have preferred a much longer, more convoluted and detailled version of the book. Well, I got one. This Connie Willis book is sort of like Bellwether, crossed with Doomsday Book. Full of hard science fiction and death. And humour and covoluted self-referential plot twists. Excellent stuff.

06/11/2003

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Constraints

To the old constraints on engineering products (Fast, Cheap, Good; Pick any two) is now added a version for human systems: Diverse, Free, Equal; Pick any two.

This explains a lot.

And now, back to Geothermal power

It seems a pilot geothermal power plant is being made in the Cooper basin. Wherever that is. Somewhere in NSW I gather, but that covers a fair amount of area. Later mention was made of the Hunter Valley, about an hour's drive north of Sydney, but I'm not sure if that is the same site, or a different, future one.

ANYWAY, these guys have found these huge slabs of hot granite underground, about 5 or 6 km down, and they want to pump water into it, get hot steam out, and run a power plant. Yeah great, and did they have any numbers? To my surprise they did.

They were saying that the capital cost was going to be $40/kW (if I recall correctly) which is apparently exactly the same as a Natural Gas plant, except this has no fuel costs and no CO2 emmisions. This makes it staggering good by "green" power standards. Add to that the fact it is actually rather easy on the environment (unlike wind or solar power) and that it can be stuck quite close to a major city without needing to chew up much valuable land, and they could be looking at a real winner.

One vital point that the speaker made was that a critical factor is drilling costs. Improved drilling costs will reduce the cost of making a really (5, 6, 8 km) deep hole, and once you have the hole the steam is almost free.

The energy levels were impressive too, they said a 25 by 25 km area under the Hunter valley could supply energy equal to Australia's coal output for 70 years. In other words, about equal to a similar sized parcel of land that was all coal mine. And in this case only a few drilling rigs and a power plant are needed, the rest can remain as delightful vinyards.

Naturally the greenies won't stand for this.

05/11/2003

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Melbourne Cup

Once again the horse with my name on it stopped for a bit of a graze, perhaps a snooze, before ambling on past all the yelling humans at the finish line. There goes the $2.00 I was going to give to Greenpeace. (Take my plastic shopping bags will you? You bastards!)

The Boss of my division at work, on the other hand, picked the winner. So he popped the champagne and sent everyone home for the rest of the day.

When I told my girlfriend this, she thought it was perfectly normal and exactly what someone back in China would have have done. Then she asked how much he won. I replied $15.00. That stopped her, back in China it would have been $15 000 before anyone thought it worth mentioning.

Environmental Encouragement of Technical Progress

When they aren't killing timber workers and encouraging shopping chains to charge you 10c for a 0.5c shopping bag, greenies do sometimes accomplish some good in the world.

Usually by accident.

A case in point is the development of new technology as a reaction to environmental legislation.

The basic law of capitalism is that different businesses will constantly be trying to improve and outdo eachother to attract more business. However a basic law of human nature is that as soon as a business gets some political power it will get some politician to introduce "regulation of the industry", allegedly for the good of society but really to stop other businesses from muscling in on the territory.

Once the government starts controlling the business (for example, Banking) the businesses already in operation find they can relax and stop trying so hard. Indeed they may be prevented from introducing improvements by the regulations writen about doing things the old way. Look at the level of improvement found in Australian TV now that regulation has prevented Cable and Internet based systems from joining the market.

So how can this be solved? One solution is that the government stop telling people what (legal) businesses they can run and how to run them. This tends to work but exposes those consumers who don't understand the business to the risk of shonky product and ripoffs. See the regulated pharmacuticals (which work) compared to the unregulated "natural" remedies (which are often useless and sometimes dangerous).

A second solution is the the government regulators force change, but past experience indicates that this is as likely to be a change for the worse as for the better. An example of this is the "improvements" to airport security, which has sucessfully prevented my mother from taking nail clippers on a plane, but wouldn't stop a young Arab man with a bottle of highly flammable Vodka and a book of matches. All while doubling the time spent at airports.

And thirdly, if there is a sudden change in the business, then everyone will be forced to change. During this period of flux, the old ideas that have been locked into the bureacratic structures are swept away and replaced by whatever happens to be the best solution at the time (or roughly so). Then the system ossifies again.

Where I'm going with this disjoint rambling is that the imposition of new environment regulations can often kick an old fashioned, oligarchic, over-regulated industry out of it's rut and result in a burst of innovation, at least until a new, more advanced, rut is found.

Case Study 1: The car industry. The technical development between 1930 and 1978 was pretty much zilch. You get a standard 1978 car and take it to an automotive engineer in 1930 and he will recognize everything in it. The designs had been refined and made more complex, but nothing actually new. Then the burden of green regulations got to the point where carburators and distributors couldn't hack it any more. Suddenly there was a burst of innovation where electronics, double overhead cams with 4 valve heads, fuel injection, turbocharging etc. were all introduced. These were not new technology, most of them were used in World War 2 aircraft, but they weren't used in average cars because no other company used them, so what's the point.

Case Study 2: Lightbulbs have been the same since Thomas Edison was a lad, but the push for energy efficiency is leading to new and innovative things such as LED based systems that not only save a few cents in power, but more usefully last almost for ever and don't break if you drop them.

Case Study 3: What actually brought this on was a speech in parliment yesterday about geothermal power, but I have to have dinner now so that'll wait till tomorrow.

01/11/2003

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Global Warming

It is the beginning of November in Australia. And it is cold at noon. Need some more CO2 I reckon. Time to put a bigger turbo on my car.

23/10/2003

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Burden of Proof

U.S.S. Clueless has a post up today about the burden of proof in criminal trials. How in any criminal trial, where one person accuses someone of a crime and the other denies it, the requirement for "proof beyond reasonable doubt" means the accused will get off. UNLESS, that is, the crime is rape or sexual harassment. Then, providing the victim is female and the accused male, the woman's word will be taken as proof.

This is particularly tricky if both parties agree that sex took place, but disagree about whether it was consensual. Many people point out that men can be accused when they intended no harm at all, and have no defense.

A number of different points of view are brought forward, particularly some interesting ones about why a woman should always fight back. (It is pretty impossible to claim consent if the rapist had to give her a black eye to have sex with her. Not to mention the psychological advantage it gives to the woman afterwards.)

But I have a different perspective on it all. It seems to me that having a casual bonk with some woman you don't/barely know is just stupid. A guy who gets really drunk, meets some equally out of it girl and gets it on in the parking lot without even getting to know her, is asking for trouble. Just as a girl is who goes out wearing a mini-skirt and crop-top, goes to a party by herself, and gets plastered before wandering off with some guy she just met. Neither of these people deserve what might happen to them, but if they had a clue they wouldn't risk it.

Now some people leap up at this point, and say it is "blaming the victim". I wonder if they react the same way to government ads urging people not to drink and drive? I mean it's the same thing isn't it? People don't DESERVE to die or be horribly injured because they drink and drive, but no-one says it is "blaming the victim" when campaigns warn people of the consequences. How about smokers? Do they deserve to get cancer? Is it therefore wrong to point out the risks?

Mentioning risks brings up another point. The coverage given by the outraged American bloggers may lead one to believe that men are constantly being accussed of rape, left, right and centre. I would have to say that I have never even heard of someone who has been accussed of rape, falsely or otherwise. It could be that, as with street violence, police harrassment and being approached by prostitutes or drug dealers, that I live a charmed life. But I find it harder and harder to believe that I miraculously escape all these hazards of life and everyone else has to put up with them.

16/10/2003

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Song Lyrics

In an earlier post I mentioned the song Boys of Summer

walking out today I saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac

A little voice inside my head said "Don't look back, you can never look back."

I must have been hearing that song for 15 or 20 years, but I just realized what that lyric actually means.

For those as slow as me, a deadhead sticker is the sign of someone who is a fan of The Grateful Dead. This is a counter-culture, against the establishment, eat the rich type band. Hence to have the sticker on a cadillac shows that the owner is trying to remain a hippie while having totally sold out to capitalism.

So why did it take me so long? Because I am too young. I'm not a baby boomer, I'm X-generation. I never saw rock-and-roll as being something anti-capitalism or against the system. For as long as I can remember, rock is part of the establishment. Thats what radios and TVs play. It's the music played at schools. Rock concerts are attended by politicians and religious leaders. The music industry is a big nasty business that tries to squeeze money out the consumer. A rock fan in a cadillac is perfectly normal.

Well I heard two new versions of it last night. Both were interesting.

The first one changed the lyric to "a black flag sticker on a cadillac". I don't know what a Black Flag is, but presume that it doesn't refer to a brand of flyspray. It is almost certainly some sort of anti-capitalist, smoke-dope-not-towelheads, type symbol of the sort that "rock and roll" used to represent. (A google search reveals two popular Black-Flags. One is an Anarchist Punk rock band, the other an Anarchist/Socialist magazine. Both are exactly as I thought.)

The second song was sung by a woman. This opens up all sorts of interpretations.

When sung by a man the interpretation is obvious: His girlfriend has dumped him to slut around with the rich young tourist boys, but will come back when they go home and leave her alone after summer ends.

When sung by a woman it becomes more obscure: Is it a lesbian girlfriend who is off tarting herself with the tourist boys? Or is it the singer herself who is catting around, and consoling her cuckolded boyfriend (or girlfriend, now that the possibility is brought up) that she'll be back once she no longer has any better offers? Perhaps she is singing to her bisexual boyfriend who leches after the boys in summer but comes back to the woman when he needs warmth in the winter?

Of course once you start thinking that way, the original song becomes open to new interpretations too. Perhaps he is singing to his gay boyfriend who is off whoring through the nightclubs? Or maybe the singer is the ho, but is singing to his dumb old victim of a boyfriend? (Or Girlfriend)

This is neglecting the question of whether the "summer" is a few months of the year, or whether it is the youth and wild years of the slut in question, who will come back when they grow up and settle down. Either way you feel contempt for the looser who is waiting for ta.

All up, the perspective of having a different singer do the song offers a wealth of possibilities to what was originally a soppy mush of no redeming qualities.

Move: Finding Nemo

Absobloodylutely Fanfukintastic. No more needs to be said.

Except don't be as stupid as every single other person in our movie theatre: Stay till the end of the credits.

10/10/2003

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Cheating

Yobbo mentions a clever technique to stretch the deadline on an assignment that can be submitted by email. Simply submit what looks like a corrupted file, and you will usually be asked to submit it again, giving you more time to finish it.

I did this so long ago they didn't even have email. We had to submit an english assignment on tape. I did mine and handed it in, but my mate ran out of time and had nothing. So, five minutes before class I took his blank tape, pulled the tape out, screwwed it up, broke it, repaired the break using liquid paper as glue, and then put it back together.

Teacher put it in her tape machine, and the result was an instant tape chew, the tape broke, it shot out into the guts of the machine, it was dead. It was an ex-tape. It had ceased to be.

Result? She apologised, gave him an "A", and PAID FOR A NEW BLANK TAPE!!!

I only got a B+. Now THAT pissed me off.

07/10/2003

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The Long Weekend

Why is it that I only play golf when it is pouring rain? Admittedly this time it was standard, long weekend rain. Last time it was Cyclone Namu up in Cairns. (Which shows how often I play golf.)

Normal rain results in water hazards ON the green, little rooster tails of water as the ball is putted, and weird friction effects as the ball is rolling (rather like playing pool in the rain).

A full cyclone adds some other hazards, such as the wind picking up and moving the ball several metres after it has come to a stop, trees falling onto the fairway as you are playing, and the very real possibility that the ball may land BEHIND you if you are chipping into the wind.

Lightning is a different matter. The last thing you want to do in a lightning storm is stand in the middle of an open field and hold a metal stick up the the air.

02/10/2003

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Light Reading

With it raining lately, I haven't gone to the local library and hence ran out of things to read. So I looked through my girlfriend's supplies and found a copy of Emily Bronte's Jane Eyre. I have never actually read this well known classic, so I started.

In this I was encouraged by a radio interview I head about a month ago comparing the Bronte sisters with Jane Austin in the development of western concepts of romantic love. Apparently at the time of writing, the wealth and freedom of the average person had just reached the point where people could choose their spouse without the decision being dominated by practical considerations. That is, for the poor, which of the 3 peasant girls in the village is not closely related to the available peasant boy, or for the rich, whose parents wish to arrange a merger of their lands/baronies/duchys/kingdoms.

By the 1700s a significant section of the British population had reached the point where you could get married based on whom you WANTED to marry, and so a culture had to be developed about what such love meant, and how people would react to it. Two main threads of thought were developed about this. The strain exemplified by the writing of the Bronte Sisters was that Love drove you mad. You became crazed with desire once you met the ONE, your soulmate. Love at first sight, suicides, Romeo and Juliet, that sort of thing. (The fact that "Romeo and Juliet" was writen hundreds of years previously points out the fact that this sort of thing was not a recent development in human evolution and that the radio person discussing this was glossing over the facts, but it still could be argued that this was when such ideas started to be applied to the population as a whole.)

Jane Austin on the other hand represented a more down to Earth view. In her writings the crazy, mad, love still occurred, but a sensible person would not fall for such nonsense and chose their partners based on a more considered view of the prospects attributes. This is not to say they adopt a mercenary approach of only going for the girl with huge... tracts of land. But that you did take into account what sort of life, education, and conversation a person had, as well as the piercing quality of their eyes.

The Bronte view is the dominant one in today's culture.

And so what was the book itself like?

I am impressed. The gruesome deaths started almost straight away, though it was 220 pages in before anyone used the word "Vampyre". This is pretty long for most of the books I read, but still rather short given the sort of old fashioned "ladies and gentlemen having tea" image that is associated with the Bronte/Austin genre.



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