The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Another plate

Another silly sod:

Number plate seen this morning on a car painted up advertising Adam Internet: “STOLEN”.

Really? Who would use that as their number plate? Why?

PICs from Hong Kong

A few assorted pictures from Hong Kong:

View from my Hotel window out over Hong Kong harbour:

Bundles of bamboo sitting in the street waiting to be used as scaffolding:

Fuk Wa Street is just near the Golden Computer Arcade:

General street sights:

Qemu

I’ve found a free emulator for windows and linux which does the same job as VMWare: Qemu. This is not as fast as VMWare, but hey – its free.

VMWare and Qemu are very useful as a means of building a quarantined test environment – allowing you to run another operating system in a window.

So far I have XP running inside a Qemu VM (on top of XP), and also Fedora Core 4, and I’m just installing Solaris 10 to evaluate for a little server job I might need to set up in the next few months.

Best performance is obtained using the Qemu kernel virtualiser (kqemu) – under windows this needs to be started separately as a service each time which is a bit of a pain. On my 2.4 GHz P4, I get performance roughly the same as about a 500 MHz P4 – maybe a bit better. It would be even better if I had more memory.

You can find Qemu here.

Hong Kong Computer Shopping

I had a escorted visit to the “Golden Computer Arcade” in Hong Kong (thanks Mark).

This is simply jaw-dropping.

The arcade occupies one floor of a building occupying a city block, so it must be about the floor area of a decent sized department store. Inside, there are hundreds of small shops selling every imaginable thing you could ever want for a PC or electronic game. The passageways between shops are small, and very crowded.

Interestingly, prices are not all that good: Hard drives for maybe A$10 less than I pay here, software at the same prices as here, flat screen LCD monitors are actually cheaper in Australia. This just goes to show that computers have become a world-wide commodity and competition drives the prices close to rock-bottom everywhere you go.

I did not buy anything – the prices were not good enough to justify the warranty risk that comes with buying overseas. Any bargains were, at best, only about 10% better than you would pay here.

It was definitely worth the visit, just to walk around and listen, and look at the sights.

Hong Kong

On arrival, late at night, I took the airport express train instead of a taxi, then a shuttle bus to the hotel. You see a lot looking out train and bus windows, and the sights are very different between night and day.

I was very fortunate, spending my time in flash hotels with everything that opens and shuts. I had only a couple of days, so my impressions are very limited by where I went and what I saw.

Hong Kong is a strange mix between the steroetype of China, and any big modern city. Some parts are very poor and primitive, some parts shiny, high tech, glossy and sophisticated. For those who have been to England – its quite amusing to have British illuminated road bollards in roads with names like “Lo Fuk Road” and “Gloucester St”.

There are 7 million people living in Hong Kong, all jammed into a small area. The number of 40 to 60 floor apartment buildings has to be seen to be believed.

The train systems for moving people are fairly cheap, and very very effective. Trains run frequently, and the sign systems in the stations announces the time to wait until the next train arrives. In Adelaide we have stupid arguments about train ticketing systems. In Hong Kong they have very effective barrier entry systems, ticketing machines, and also allow use of a contactless stored-value smart card. It is fast and effective. Why can’t our decision makers do something like this?

In one of the more industrial areas you could find an apartment building (falling down) next to the headquarters for a billion dollar company. At street level you will find a guy selling tyres from a 5 x 3 metre shop, next to somebody processing recycled cardboard in a 4 x 2 metre shop. The contrasts are around every corner.

This is truly a city that never stops, devoted to making money. The tourist areas are something I did not see – but besides, who cares, you get that rubbish anywhere. Seeing other parts of a big city is far more interesting.

Travel

Duncan wrote this as a comment about my Airbus post:

Welcome back to Australia… the dumb country :) We’ve been so left behind by the rest of the world.. really, we’re bordering on primitive, culturally coarse, objectionable, ill-educated, technologically primitive, fat and arrogant too boot. Lets start a new country :)

I’m sad to say I have to agree with pretty much all of this.

Australians don’t travel enough, and when they do, they don’t open their eyes.

We in Australia are insular, parochial, self-absorbed and self-satisfied. We have no idea how lucky we are. We are a country full of yobs who only seem interested in grabbing a pay rise so we can buy a new plasma TV.

As for Australian customs and security: I’ve done two foreign trips this year – Europe in April, and Hong Kong / China just now. The most difficult customs and security people in the world seem to be Australian. More luggage X-Rays than anywhere else, more delays, less organisation.

I’ve just been to Hong Kong and China (Shenzhen), and I’ll do a few postings over the next week or so giving potted impressions.

Airbus

I’m back.

Slightly unwell but no throwing up – thankfully. That last meal in the dodgy Hong Kong diner is probably the cause.

Anyhow – I’m VERY impressed with the Airbus A330 which Qantas use for the Australia / Hong Kong (and Australia / Singapore) routes. It is a nicely built aircraft – quiet, reasonably spacious in cattle class, well finished. The video-on-demand in every seat is nice also. Watch one of about 20 movies whenever you want, pause, skip, etc, without affecting anybody else.

I’m VERY UNIMPRESSED with clearing customs in Melbourne. ALWAYS allow 2 hours for this. I missed my connecting flight this morning because of the hell-hole called Melbourne International Customs. This has a capacity of about 4 large planes, so these wallies put 10 through there in half an hour this morning. It started with not enough gates so they use buses from the tarmac out in the boondocks somewhere. But the buses are not big enough… Once inside the terminal, the baggage system is grossly overloaded with 4 planes per carousel… So it takes up to an hour for your bag to appear, and then there were about 3000 people in queues about 300 metres long waiting to clear customs – some people came close to punch-ups.

Melbourne Airport and Australian customs seriously need to get their act together. This crappy dump called Melbourne International is a disgrace.

Off to Honkers

Today (Sunday) I’m off to Hong Kong and China for a weeks worth of work meetings.

So there won’t be any posts here for a while – but maybe a few photo’s later on.

The Latham Diaries

I saw about 3/4 of the Latham / Denton interview on Thursday night, and about 1/2 the Lateline interview on Friday night.

The newspapers, radio and TV media have all been full of reports about Lathams “spray”, “rant”, and a few other derogatory terms.

Really, it’s a long time since I have seen such a beat-up.

Latham seemed to me to be slightly uncomfortable at doing the interviews, but gave answers that were frank and in all probability, honest.

There was very little (if any) of what I saw that could be called a rant, or an attack, or a spray. It was just some comments about a career in politics. Nothing should have been a huge surprise to any observer of Canberra or the Labor party.

He made an interesting point (one of many):

Labor is hardly going to win an election when it offers change to people who are doing very nicely in a strong economy (examples of the guy in the removals van who owned an investment property, and the little old lady on the train asking for the “Market Wrap” to check her investments)… The best way for Labor to win is during a recession.

This tallies very nicely with the old saying that Oppositions don’t win elections – Governments lose them.

It is all wonderful publicity for his diaries, and I’m sure the book will sell very well now. Perhaps I’m a little cynical?

Dumb computer security

Thanks Bruce Schneier…

There was a reference in the latest crypto-gram to this article about the top 5 dumb things in computer security.

I especially like #6 about inaction and action, and this:

It is often easier to not do something dumb than it is to do something smart.

Mr Prime Minister

Just recently the Prime Minister, John Howard, has been telling Telstra executives that they should be talking up the share price, rather than talking it down.

Having made this statement he then repeated it in parliament the following day.

Mr Howard: Did you know that under the securities laws passed by YOUR government, company executives must tell it like it is? They can go to jail for talking up the share price, or for that matter, talking it down.

By demanding that executives break the law (and then compounding his error by repeating the statement), John Howard shows himself to be a fool. He should resign over this one.

Why SETI is a waste of time – take 4

Remember SETI – the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence?

Here is reason #4 that it is a waste of time (based on engineering):

Pattern Matching

The only way that SETI can detect anything is to try and detect “intelligence”. Now that’s pretty hard on planet earth, but how the heck can you detect it emanating from somewhere else?

Answer: look for patterns. These patterns are an extremely difficult puzzle to solve – generally humans a fairly good at recognising patterns. Computers are also pretty good, but MUCH more so when they know that pattern they are trying to recognise.

So, there is a twofold problem that confronts the searchers:

1. Find a pattern

2. Use a receiver that supports detecting a pattern.

Finding a pattern

This is not the case of finding the needle in the haystack. That, by comparison, is easy. In the case of SETI we try to find patterns in radio signals but we have no idea what we should be looking for.

The problem is like being blindfolded in a dark room and then told to find something. You don’t know what you are trying to find, but find it you must! It could be the needle – but the give-away there would be to stumble around and find the haystack! In the case of SETI – no hints are available at all.

In engineering speak, when looking at radio waves you look for some kind of modulation. This is the information content part of the transmission. Modulation could be amplitude, phase shifted, frequency, or some combination of these. It could also be covert – using frequency hopping or direct sequence spread spectrum.

Modulation recognition is possible, but you need to start with a pretty good idea of what is being transmitted. You also need a pretty nice big clean signal. Recovering the covert communication types is much more difficult.

For SETI, we don’t have a nice big clean signal, and we have no idea of what patterns to search for.

Using a receiver that supports detecting a pattern

More engineering, in the simplest possible terms.

Every receiver has a bandwidth, and it is capable of detecting and recovering signals in that band. The bandwidth is what stops one TV channel from merging with another, and allows you to tune in only one radio station at a time.

The receiver bandwidth and the transmitter bandwidth need to match. If for example, I try and receive an FM transmission in with a 25 kHz bandwidth, but use only a 5 kHz wide receiver, I lose some of the information content. If it is audio, it will sound distorted.

Now… (and this is the important bit kiddies), suppose that the Wookies like watching plain ordinary TV just like us. Suppose that re-runs of “I love Lucy” just make their day complete. These are transmitted with bandwidth of about a million Hertz (actually more, but use 1 MHz for arguments sake).

Remember in a past article that the receiver noise power is given by the equation N = kTB. So… making a wide band receiver means B gets very big – so reducing the temperature (T) is pretty minor by comparison.

This means that a wide-band receiver is LOUSY for listening to Wookie-TV. We have to use a narrow band receiver.

But… using a narrow band receiver makes it much more difficult to recover the information content. In fact, as you reduce bandwidth the loss of information becomes greater and greater. So much so that by the time you are down to fractions of the transmitted bandwidth, what you receive just looks like random junk.

So… if it looks random, it looks like noise, and if it looks like noise you cannot separate it from noise, so you have no chance of trying to detect a pattern anyhow.

Wookie-TV is an extreme example (but would certainly show the existence of advanced technology). More likely is narrower band ordinary radio transmissions of a a few kHz. But the same problem applies. We need to use very narrow band receivers to stand any chance of detecting a signal above the noise, and narrow band receivers make it difficult to recover the information part of the signal. Catch-22!

Conclusion: Pattern detection and receiver technology (and the associated laws of physics) mean that SETI is a waste of time.

Affluenza

Duncan sent me the introduction to “Affluenza”, a new book by Clive Hamilton.

The introduction is 16 pages and will take about 20 minutes to read – but read it you should. It’s available here.

This sets out clearly and simply (and with better phraseology) a number of things I have been thinking for a long time…

. Money and material wealth is pursued as a whorthwhile end, something that can buy you happiness;

. It never seems to matter how much people have, they always want more. (I’ve seen this stated before as “30% syndrome” – when you ask people how much money they would like to be comfortable, they all think about 30% more would be about right, irrespective of present income.)

If you like what you read, why not sign up to the Wellbeing Manifesto?

I had not appreciated it before, but the author (Clive Hamilton) is executive director of the Australia Institute, and an economist who is going against the conventional wisdom of unfettered economic growth and consumerism.

We need a few more like him.

A few good quotable quotes:

Af-flu-en-za n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the Australian dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.

Australia does not have a public health funding crisis: it has a flat-screen TV crisis.

But, instead of witnessing the end of economics, we live in a time when economics and its concerns are more dominant than ever before. Instead of our growing wealth freeing us of our materialist preoccupations, it seems to have had the opposite effect. People in affluent countries are now even more obsessed with money and material acquisition, and the richer they are the more this seems to be the case.

We argue that, to tackle the problem of poverty, we must first tackle the problem of affluence. And the problem with affluence is that once people become affluent they continue to believe that more money is the key to a happier life when the evidence suggests that it makes no difference beyond a certain threshold. This belief has powerful personal and social ramifications, not the least being that the affluent become more preoccupied with themselves. That is why Australians are richer than ever but less inclined to sympathise with the dispossessed. So conservative politicians and radio shock jocks vilify the poor. Consumerism and growth fetishism have become the enemies of a fairer Australia.

Stupid People

Gee some people really amaze me with the dopey things they do or say…

A few trivial examples from today at the local swimming pool where my oldest son and I went for a swim this afternoon.

Idiot #1. One of the staff told us off for swimming in a fast lane “because your son is too slow”. There was one other person in the lane as well, and we were both constantly slowing down to crawl behind this person. Too slow?????

Later a parent took a young child to the same lane to tow them using an inflatable ring thing. I watched to see if they would be told off. Nup. Must be the colour of my hair or something…

Idiot #2. The only reason we were in the fast lane was because the bloke in the lane we normally use is an arrogant jerk who insists on swimming directly over the black line down the middle – taking the whole lane and forcing anybody else into the lane ropes when passing him. He’s come close to drowning me twice so I try to keep away from him.

Idiot #3. Later – some woman was standing in the doorway to the men’s change room and would not get out of the way. Even when my son and I were standing next to her, wet and dripping, obviously wanting to go in. Did she have some kind of strange desire to have a perve? She was waiting for a child – but that did not require her to BLOCK the entrance for 10 minutes!

You have to wonder…

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!

Why SETI is a waste of time – take 3

Remember SETI – the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence?

Here is reason #3 that it is a waste of time (based on geometry):

Coincidence

Based on take 1 and take 2 (and take 2A), let us assume that Jabba the Hut has a big fat radio transmitter pointed in our direction with a nice narrowish transmit beam to avoid wasting that power pointing it somewhere else. Let’s also assume he is running a thumping big nuclear reactor to generate the power to transmit a huge signal in our direction.

The only way we can localise the source of a signal is to point a focussed antenna somewhere in the sky. The focussed antenna gives antenna gain, which makes the detection job a touch easier.

However by using a focussed antenna, we need to point it at the right place in the sky. Seeing as (relative to us) the point in the sky where Jabba is located is very very small, and the planets where Jabba would be living cannot be seen anyhow (so we don’t have a lot of hints about where to point the antenna) – how do we know where to point it?

We can blindly point at lumps of the sky and we might one day get lucky. If you divide the sky up into small spheres that could be covered by a decent focussed antenna you end up with a vast area to try and scan. (The spherical maths involves calculating the number of distinct spaces to cover given the antenna beam width, when applied to a sphere – it’s not trivial, but it is managable).

There is a trade off – a narrower beam (more focussed) antenna gives better received sensitivity due to antenna gain, and better localisation, but makes the job of scanning the sky harder. A broader antenna makes coverage easier but detracts from receive performance and localisation.

So – this one might get somewhere with a vast effort. But factors #1 and #2 mean that the vastly difficult job has an improbably small chance of success detecting an impercetibly small signal.

Then – the sky is chock-full of stars and pulsars and other wierdness all radiating like blazes at much higher powers than our friendly aliens – which is all just making a stack of noise-like clutter. This makes the search even harder.

It’s still a waste of time.

Fresh Eggs

The next door neighbours have gone away so we are looking after their chickens. The advantage is we get the eggs.

This morning I had a fresh egg & bacon for breakfast. Delicious!

I’d forgotten what REAL eggs taste like. It certainly makes a difference letting the chickens wander around scratching in the dirt and eating what they like. The eggs have a much yellower yolk, and taste better too!

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