The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Comments please!

I am getting around 300 comment spams per day here.

I have tried all sorts of things to keep these evil cretins at bay, they all work for a few days at most.

Now I’m trying something different.

MANY comments will get automatically eaten – they won’t even make the moderation queue – if they contain popular porn words, or the names of pharmaceuticals commonly sold over the net.

So, a word of warning for posters: don’t use those words and you should generally be ok.

BUT if your comment does not appear immediately, or say it is held for moderation, please use the back button in you browser and email me your comment so I can find what word has trigger the comment-eating-monster, and I’ll post it and try and tweak things up as well.

Sorry… thanks for your understanding.

—-

EDIT: I installed Spam Karma 2, and it found the legit comments that had previously been auto-eaten! And it seems to do a good job of identifying and quarantining spam, and has a nice interface to review it and bulk delete it. Now I just have to figure out how to tune it a bit better.

My Cubicle

We all know large open spaces are lousy places to work (but companies persist in herding us in, like sheep). Strange how the managers don’t have to work in the pig-pen, they seem to score offices for themselves.

A step up from the completely open room full of desks is… tah dah… THE CUBICLE. A bunch of reinforced cardboard walls that split the open room into a series of small pens, designed to make us feel the space is ours.

Cubicles come in two versions: The DeLuxe, with walls up to about 5 feet high (roughly the top of the shoulders of the average sized person), and The Standard.

The Standard is what you get when the boss is told they need cubicles, but they want to keep everybody in sight or under control. Of course, they won’t ever say that’s why they chose The Standard, they will describe it as “fostering open communication” or some other euphemism for making a distracting and noisy workplace. The standard has partition walls that go about 1 foot (30 cm) above the top of the desk – just high enough to stop things falling off.

Either way, The Cubicle bears an uncanny resemblance to the kind of pens that pigs are raised in. Ever seen one of those? Probably not – there is a reason most people don’t know how intensive livestock raising works. It has nothing to do with cruelty to the animals, and more to do with figuring out that the animals are treated better than a lot of people in their cubicles at work. At least the animals get fed for free, and can lie down sometimes!

If you ever get a choice, go for The DeLuxe cubicle. At least you get a tiny bit of privacy when you sit down.

For a really good discussion about working environments, I cannot recommend highly enough “Peopleware” by DeMarco and Lister. It’s been in print for about 20 years, and is still very applicable.

But anyhow, for all those with crappy jobs and horrible office cubicles, watch this. You might get a chuckle.

Christmas

Its the silly season.

I hope all the 2 or 3 readers out there have an enjoyable break and a safe Christmas.

MythBusters

Fascinating interview with Adam Savage from MythBusters.

(With thanks to Steve at “The Sneeze”)

Country South Australia

Driving between somewhere, and somewhere else, one rainy day, and saw this. So good I just had to stop and leap out to take the photo:

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microsoft system for feedback to programmers

Somebody in M$ Europe has a sense of humour:

http://www.microsoft.com/emea/itsshowtime/sessionh.aspx?videoid=9999

Unfortunately they have screwed it up by requiring a M$ Live ID, so you’ll have to go through the pain of making one. And it only seems to work using M$ Internet Explorer. And after you have logged in you need to search for the presentation by MAURO MEANTI.

Arrggh. Make sure you use the low bandwidth option. It uses the poxy M$ media player and the high bandwidth option does not seem to buffer the video properly.

It’s worth the effort.

EDIT: for those who can’t speak techno:

M$ = Microsoft.

Click on the link above. Use Internet Explorer (dont try in a different browser like Firefox).

Then you have to make a microsoft Live! ID if you don’t already have one. Click on the PLAY FULL thingy (or similar name). Follow their various prompts. About 1/2 hour later when you have your MS Live! ID, then come back here, click on the link above again.

When you get to the place it takes you, click the “Low Bandwidth” label on the screen. Hunt. It might take a while to find it.

Then login into their hideous site using your fresh sparkly new MS Live! ID. Then use the search options to search for a presentation by Mauro Meanti.

Then eventually you will be able to play the video.

Then go and scream about how hard they made it for you.

Madness, nuclear madness

(Sing that title to the tune of the old Goodies song “malice”)

Our glorious leader, Little John of Syderney, has started an Enquiry Into Things Nuclear. (Or as George Dubya would say, Noo-clear).

Ostensibly this is about finding if the great brown land of Oz should build nuclear power plants.

(My personal view on this is that nuclear power is not such a bad thing, and the waste can be disposed of, using Ted Ringwoods Synroc process… go Google it. Poor Ted died without seeing his process used, but its a damn sight safer than the other processes that are commonly used. In spite of my views about safety, it won’t ever be used unless it’s economic.)

Anyhow, Little John has taken the lid off Pandora’s box, and I suspect he’s made another tactical error in his cunning stunts with trying to nobble Her Maj’s wondrous Opposition – led by the giant blimp, Bomber Beasley.

See, Labor are opposed to Nuclear power, but paradoxically have a “3 uranium mines” policy which is looking like being scrapped soon, on the grounds that it’s Ok to dig the stuff up so long as we sell it to somebody else to use and then eat the waste.

So… Little John will have an enquiry, with the great Oz public clamouring “Sir… where sir… where will you build the reactors?”, for which there will be no answer.

Another tactic to try and make Labor look silly (having a policy to allow the stuff to be dug up, but not used). However, I think Little John might underestimate the depth of feeling in public-land. 40 years of anti-nuclear rhetoric leaves a great deal of fear and worry in the public. It will be very difficult to undo this.

In his bid to make Labor look silly, Little John The Deputy Sherriff may yet have loaded the first barrel of the gun pointed at his own feet. It will be interesting to see the outcome…

On the good ship Lollipop

Today we went to Port Adelaide to see the Duyfken replica ship that’s been touring the country.

This is a copy of a Dutch trading ship that sailed from the East Indies to Holland as part of the spice trade.

A few interesting factoids:

- At the time, a handful of nutmeg was so valuable that a handful would buy a house in Holland – WITH servants

- The ship had a crew of 30

- Only the captain and the trade master had a cabin – and an extremely small one at that

- The rest of the crew slept on deck!

Some photos:

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From on top of the lighthouse:

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Cooking was under cover, but above decks. How would you like to cook for 30 here:

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Lawyers paying tax

I’ve just been reading in Crikey about  new tax office project to do some data matching of buyers of luxury cars, against other information.

The article mentioned the previous lawyers project which found a large number of Barristers and Solicitors who had not lodged tax returns, and who in some cases resorted to bankruptcy to avoid their tax obligations.

This issue has come up every now and again – with some pretty lame excuses, like the lawyers in question being “too busy” to file tax returns.

These cases seem to pop up and then quietly fade away without answers to some obvious questions.

Questions like:

- Why does the tax office not follow up with a tax payer who has not lodged a return? Surely they will know when a return is 12 months overdue and can mail the person or their accountant?

- Everybody else has to lodge a tax return, even busy people. Why should excuses like being too busy even be raised? It’s just silly and should never come up in the first place. I assume these folks are not too busy to go spending all their lovely money.

- (the important one) – As I understand it, lawyers (once admitted to the bar) are officers of the court. This is not something that can be switched off out of hours, it’s forever (or until struck off). As officers of the court they must be beyond reproach. This means, in lay terms, squeaky-damn-clean in everything they do. Breaking the law by non-payment of taxes SHOULD in my view lead to being AUTOMATICALLY struck off, or de-barring, or whatever the term is. In other words, removal of the right to practice in the legal profession. It should of course be proved in court so there is a measure of natural justice, but is this the outcome? We don’t seem to hear about it, so I’ve no idea.

I suspect part of the reason that middle Australia holds lawyers in some contempt is that there is a great deal of publicity about lawyers who break the law, but very little publicity about the eventual outcome. It creates the perception, rightly or wrongly, that there is one law for all of us common muck, and another law for thems who are in the club.

I’d love some comments about the outcome of the lawyers tax cases – I really want to know what eventually happensd to those who were found guilty of non-lodgement of returns and non-payment of tax.

The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams was a man ahead of his time.

When he first wrote The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy as a radio series back in 1978, there was no Internet, and the World-Wide-Wait had not been invented.

But the series had as a feature, a book, “The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” with “Dont Panic” printed on the cover in large friendly letters. This book had the amazing property that it seemed to stay up to date as it was opened and used – or at least pretty much up to date.

Zoom ahead to 2006. Now we’ve got Wikipedia, a free on-line encyclopaedia where nobody is really in control and contributors add things as they see fit. The potential for abuse is huge, but it seems to work.

Thanks to the web browser we also really do have The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy – Earth Edition. It was started in 1999 and is now hosted by the BBC in England. It claims to be an unconventional encyclopaedia, and it sure is! Unlike wikipedia it aims to describe Douglas Adams original idea – a guide to Life, The Universe, and Everything.

For the die-hards, you can even read it on mobile phones!

The sections on Australia make for humorous reading. I’d not realised just how Oz it is to use the expression “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”. I use that often!! And the page on buying beer in Australia makes an interesting read as well.

Tendonitis

I’ve had tendonitis (an inflammation of a tendon) in one elbow for about 3 months now.

The chiropractor says it’s “Golfers Elbow”, common as muck, and it will clear in about 12 months. On my periodic visits he is able to stretch and poke around a bit, which helps. Apart from that… it’s just going to be time.

Weird thing is, it’s worse in the mornings and improves during each day.

The biggest downer is that it hurts most of the time, and especially when making bread.

Ah well, such things are sent to try us.

The energy co-op… story continues

Got my membership today for the SA Energy Co-Operative.

Rushed to the computer and signed up for the deal they offer through TRU energy.

First impression:

Electricity will present a pretty good saving.

Gas, on the other hand is very hard to compare to the current arrangement with Origin. I think gas will work out roughly neutral. If you have both electricity and gas on in your house, the deal is that you must transfer both to get the special rates.
Overall, it seems like a pretty good deal. There will be an annual saving – and not a bad one at that. The gas saving is marginal, if at all. The electricity and bonus rebates are better than a poke in the eye though.

Junior Cricket

This morning I was with my youngest son watching Junior cricket. This means it is for ages about 8 to 10.

We live in the northern suburbs where there are a lot of less-well-off underprivileged people and children. Because of poor organisation, not many of the other team turned up, and they did not have any uniforms (cricket whites). There were enough kids to make two teams, and everybody seemed to have fun though.

I was sitting there watching (and ignoring the dopey woman nearby playing with her mobile phone the whole time). There were kids playing, parents sitting and watching, the occasional passer-by stopping for a look.

I got to thinking:

- In spite of all the terrible problems in the world, it is good that people and children are still civilised enough to make the effort to get (mostly) dressed up in their whites and go out early on a Saturday to play cricket. It might be a bit slow, and boring for some. But everybody was trying, there were no bad tempers or kids throwing wobblies. No parents urging their kids to kill the opposition. Just making the effort and playing for the sake of it.

- some of the kids look hilarious, with the shin pads and helmet. Some of the kids are so small that all you can see is these great big pads, a tiny bit of abdomen, and a helmet. The kids have trouble running – it’s more like a waddle, but they give it their all. Next time I must take a camera!

Old credit card

Cleaning out some old bank statements today.

Found the customer copy for my first ever credit card application, back in 1985.

At the time my total assets (including car at $7500) came to $11944, but thankfully I had no liabilities.

I was on the grand salary of $7641 per annum.

End of an era

Big surprise. Panasonic have been making televisions in Australia since about 1968.

Now they are the only Australian manufacturer of TV’s left.

Today it was announced the factory will be closed.

When clients (and bosses) go bad

Another one I found by accident:

Kathy Sierra (and the folks from Creating Passionate Users) have some very interesting things to say. So much so I think I’ll be putting a link on the home page…

READ THIS ONE… it’s all about who is in control – you, your boss, or your clients. And once you have that figured, who gets rewarded, and how are you treated?

Oh if only…

I’ve spent many hours working back late, sometimes by myself, sometimes with many others. Mostly the boss would spring for pizza because after all people working through the night need to be fed.

The ONLY gourmet meal I’ve ever been treated to was Thai takeaway one evening of working back when with a previous employer (About 10 years ago). And that raised questions from the powers-that-be.

Kathys’ article really does bring home an important point – if you treat people badly, they won’t suddenly be motivated and creative and work hard to solve your problems. Instead they become grumpy, morose, sullen and resentful. And when they get the chance they leave to try and find a more compassionate employer.

So boss fellas, a bit more thought, a bit more consideration, a bit more trust and a bit more empathy would go a long way. Really respecting your employees will go even further.

(Aside: Now that Little John is changing the IR system I fully expect things to get much WORSE before they get BETTER.)

Learning to read

Another blatant rip-off from Crikey – thanks to speech pathologist Alison Clarke.

Something I’d not thought about a lot, since I have two children who are voracious readers. Admittedly it was a bit of a struggle getting the oldest going (with come-backs like “I know everything, I don’t need to learn to read”, at age 5…). Since he really go going though, we have to encourage him to do things OTHER than read…

Anyway, quoted in its entirety, from Crikey:

If Mem Fox’s reaction to Dr Ken Rowe’s draft national literacy inquiry report is anything to go by, I eagerly await its final release on 1 December.

Fox is an “advocate” of reading aloud to children, though nobody opposes this. She claims in her book Reading Magic that, if every parent “read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to the children in their lives, we could probably wipe out illiteracy within one generation” (2005, Pan McMillan, p11).

She supports this assertion with multiple anecdotes of Chloe, Tiffy, Ben, Eamon and others who trembled with delight when the treasured autographed hardcopy picture books were brought out, eagerly awaited postcards from Daddy on work trips, and magically learnt to read without ever having to do any nasty, boring phonics.

There are three main things wrong with her assertion. Firstly, the plural of anecdote is not data. The scientific literacy research is absolutely unambiguous about which literacy programs work best for all children: those that include systematic, direct phonics instruction. Some children are able, without instruction, to ‘hear’ sounds in words (phonemic awareness) and thus make sense of letter-sound relationships. Many are not, and need to be taught.

Secondly, reading is only fun if you can do it. For every anecdote about a child who magically learnt to read, I can give you one of a child who didn’t, no matter how often their parents read to them, and no matter how hard they tried. The only thing that worked was intensive, focused work on hearing sounds in words, and understanding how sounds are represented by letters.

I’m not talking here about the sort of incidental, initial phonics taught in most primary schools: A is for apple, art, Australia, acorn, autumn, among and (well) anything. Each of these words starts with a completely different sound, but only one sound tends to be taught for each of the 26 letters, and that’s the end of phonics. Many children thus believe, as Fox does, that “English spelling doesn’t make sense” (Reading Magic p147).

Systematic, explicit phonics recognises that there are 44 sounds in our language, and that sounds occur right through words, not just at word beginnings. It shows that the sound ‘ay’ has multiple spellings, as in ‘play’, ‘sale’, ‘sail’, ‘they’ and ‘eight’. It explores the sound ‘k’ as written in mosque, cheque and boutique. It demonstrates that many sounds share a spelling, as in ‘sea’, ‘deaf’ and ‘break’. It reveals the patterns, and helps children organize their thinking about sounds and letters. It is not recognisable in Reading Magic’s chapter 16: Phokissing on Fonix’.

My final objection to Fox’s thesis is that not everybody is like her and her middle-class friends. Some 500,000 Australian kids are growing up in poverty, so a personal autographed treasure trove of children’s books is simply not possible. Many sole parents are hard-pressed even to get to the library. Some parents are off gambling at story time. Some kids attending Australian schools used to live in Somali refugee camps, and while their mothers might speak four languages, they can’t read in any of them.

Read more on the website.

‘nother plate

Plate of the day, seen driving home from work:

EXELR-8

(I also used to see REDRUM [turn it backwards] regularly, but he seems to have disappeared recently.)

The price of computer parts

I had to buy a new CD burner the other day, so I ducked into the computer shop around the corner from work.

A Sumsung 52x CD / CDRW burner for $35 !

Quite incredible to think how much prices have come down over the recent years.

They also had a 24 port 10/100 Ethernet hub/switch for $115. I remember paying thousands for one of these about 6 years ago.

A rose by any other name would LOOK the same

The roses are looking good….

Colours in the garden

I was standing at the kitchen window a day or two ago, looking out at the garden. It’s the time of year when things look really good – bright colours, plants in flower…

I just had to post a photo:

Royal Adelaide Show #2

Continuing from the last posting about the Royal Adelaide Show (here)…

Some of the older parts of the show grounds were built a long time ago, and on the cheap. Some parts obviously had some money spent, like this old stone and brick building in the livestock area:

Now, if you are going to have an agricultural show, you need to have the local farm machine preservation society:

But wait, there’s more. Wood cutting has a big following, and is a popular event. These days there are women’s and men’s events. The competition is intense, and there are always big crowds:

Women’s (also called “Jill’s”):

And men’s (these fellows chop through a 325 mm log in about 25 seconds):

One of the large halls is always used for garden feature displays. This is the hall where I used to sit my University exams. I have many unpleasant memories of sweltering away with no air-conditioning on a stinking hot November’s day, doing 3 hour exams here. But for the show, it is transformed for 10 days with paving, garden beds, fountains, water features, and more:

What amazes me is that the floor in this place is timber, and underneath is a very large basement used as an archive. And every year it gets loaded up with tons and tons of concrete blocks, paving, water features and garden beds! All for 10 days, before being pulled out.

And finally, no trip would be complete without a quick tour down sideshow alley… but this is boring compared to the rest:

Royal Adelaide Show #1

Earlier in the week we went to the Royal Adelaide Show. This is put on every year by the Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society of South Australia, which has been running an agricultural show every year since 1839 – though on the current site since only 1925.

The show grounds are large – and these days on prime near-city real estate. Nevertheless a vast amount of money has been spent on buildings over the years – there are halls, pavilions, conference and convention centres, and so on, ranging from the modern to the old and tatty.

The show had its origins in agriculture, and that still continues. About 600,000 people visit over the 10 days it is open – not bad from a city of about 1 million people. I expect most don’t even make it to the livestock – but that’s the part I like most. You can get sideshow alley anywhere.

During show time, the parking areas near the show grounds are filled with trucks and other vehicles that farmers have used to bring in their horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and of course the weird cats and freaky chickens.

I’d wanted to take a look down the back end of the grounds where there are a lot less crowds, and wander through looking at the cattle. By accident we went through a bit of a back way (not quite lost – we knew where we were) and ended up there anyhow.

So… here is the photo gallery…

Horses being prepared for showing (no pictures, but lots of smartly dressed girls around getting prepared for riding, or dressage, or whatever it is that girls do to show off horses):

When horses go to the show, they need somewhere to live, and horses live in stables (this is only one of several):

Farmers want to show their cows as well, and cows need to be looking their best. So, a quick trim and scrub down is warranted:

Cows, of coarse live in a barn (and there are MANY of these):

And when cows are shown for judging they need a marquee, and people to lead them around, and judges, and sashes for the winners:

All that livestock means a feed store is needed to keep them in hay, oats and so on:

More pictures and commentary coming soon!

A walk in the black hill park

Last week I had a couple of days off work – a very short break.

We went walking in the Black Hill Conversation Park. This is on the edge of suburbia, where the hills pop out of the plains.

Here are a few photos from the 2 hr walk…

No writing for a while

I’ve had a short holiday, interspersed with a busy time with family and at work… more postings coming soon!

Wakakirri

Last night we went to Her Majestys Theatre in town to see the school entry in the Australia-wide Wakakirri story festival The oldest son was one of the players.

6 Schools, each having about 10 minutes to tell a story through music, acting and dancing. No singing or speaking! And everything must be done with an emphasis on low cost and use of recycled sets and props.

There are 3 divisions ranging from newcomers to old and experienced. Our school was in the top division (having done well in previous years I suppose).

I had no idea what to expect, and was very pleasantly surprised. 5 out of 6 were really good, and the 6th was OK but the story was so politically correct I wanted to cringe.

Our school told the story of “Around the work in 80 days”, by Jules Verne. I was just astonished – sophisticated but very portable sets, well coordinated set changes (about 4 in less than 10 minutes), good props, great costumes. AND it even told the story well! All with primary school children aged between about 7 and 12. Well done, everybody.

Cleaned up the page format

I’ve finally figured out enough about CSS & style sheets to clean up the formatting here a little.

Through a careful hack, the sidebar now has a list of the last 20 posts by title, the layout is a little nicer (not bold – its more readable now), and the spacing is better so that the names of things don’t run into each other.

Cleaning that up only took… oh… about an hour. I suppose that’s not too bad consider I know NO PHP at all, and nothing about style sheets.

Pruning Time

This morning was lovely weather – warm, mild, a little breezy.

Pruning time!

I spent 3 hours making a first pass over 2 peach trees, a nectarine, a Satsuma plum, and the wine grapes.

It is very satisfying to get outside, get a little sunshine, do some manual work, and know that the effort will pay of in 6-8 months time when there is fruit to harvest.

(For the curious – the bricks are there to hold down the bird netting during summer.)

And just to rub it in and create a little envy: here is the mandarine tree:

Saving on fuel consumption

We received a one page flier thingy through the mail…

“Save up to 20 cents per litre on fuel consumption…”

This is for a product called Vaporate, which is supposed to make fuel injection work better by vaporising the fuel more completely. It is distributed by Repco.

It sounds like snake-oil.

If it was so simple and so good, why don’t the car makers do it in the factory?

Any comments? Anybody know about this? Anybody know if it works?

Cold in the head

The head cold started sometime on Wednesday. Thursday was lousy. Friday I lasted at work until about 10:30am, then came home and crawled into bed.

I’ve been following Duncan’s advice and consuming lots of Vitamin C.

It might make difference – that will be tested with time. Right now I feel blah :(

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