The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Understanding Australia

I’ve discovered MadamBoffin via TFS, and especially liked this post about what makes us Australian (shame about the background – makes it hard to read).

And I really like this bit about Tall Poppy syndrome (my emphasis added!):

It is often said that Australians suffer from Tall Poppy syndrome. That is, if an Australian becomes too successful, we tear them down. Usually a habit of people – or nations – that suffer from an inferiority complex. Well, although that is true, it is more accurate to say that Australians don’t mind another successful Australian, just so long as they’re not insufferably obnoxious and arrogant about it. Because if there’s something that Australians can’t stand, it’s arrogance. Please take note Lleyton Hewitt and Russell Crowe.

Thats a pretty good insight from a young women… there’s a lot of older people who never figure this out.

After reading that post, I felt an overwhelming desire to stick it up those in power, so it’s time to post that Eureka flag again…

Welfare dependence

A report in the Saturday paper shows that the Govt are considering making welfare recipients take a job (or resumably lose benefits if the job is declined) even if the job pays only about $1 per hour more than the benefits.

Predictable outrage from Labor and the welfare warriors… oh terrible… how can you make it worthwhile when it’s so little extra… blah blah blah.

Hang on a mo – pardon… These people are on welfare. They are being paid to do NOTHING using MY taxes. How dare these do-gooders make a fuss! What is wrong with saying “take the job or lose the benefits”?

Welfare benefits are supposed to be for the least well-off, a sign of our societial compassion, not some kind of teat for losers to suck on because they might not LIKE the job on offer, or it might not pay a lot more than the benefits!

These crazy notions mean that either:

- welfare benefits are too high; or

- the welfare warriors have completely lost the plot! How much is enough? When should we stop handouts? how much tax should we levy to pay benefits? And why should there be no element of carrot and stick in dishing out government largesse?

Go here to see Duncans take… he’s as outraged as I am.

Power dependence

Last night the power failed just as we started cooking.

The failure was quite widespread through the suburbs we live in. It was only off for 2 hours, but in that period we were cooking and eating by candlelight (thank goodness for gas!).

A lack of electricity for more than about 1/2 hour really highlights how dependent we are on a reliable electricity supply, how much we take it for granted, and how difficult it can be without it.

Reading by candlelight sucks. So does cooking!

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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East Timor

A few largely uninformed thoughts about East Timor…

1. At the time of independence from Indonesia, the East Timorese asked for the UN presence to be maintained for a long period of time. The main reason was the the UN created a lot of economic activity, which in turn led to employment. The UN presence was rapidly scaled back. At the time the prediction was that it would lead to chaos.

2. The East Timorese want a large share of the oil revenue from the Timor Sea oilfields. But oodles of cash alone does not make for a population that is happy and has a purpose. That’s not an argument for depriving them of a fair share. Rather the point is that without a reasonably diversified economy the money won’t do any good anyhow.

3. A country without a purpose is pointless. Purpose leads to aspirations, work, economic activity. East Timor seems to have little by way of employment opportunity, or economic activity.

4. An established legal system is important in setting general community standards of behaviour (its an underpinning of community values like honesty, integrity, and so on). Having a legal system that works reasonably well is important so that the population know there are consequences for anti-social actions. Does East Timor have an effective legal system?

Given all of the above, is it any wonder East Timor has descended into chaos and needs to baled out?

Whilst its terribly incorrect of me, it seems like East Timor is a good example of a country that needs to be run as a colony until it can effectively stand alone. Unlike the botched UN “help” after independence from Indonesia, this is a process that should be planned to take around 10 to 20 years, not 1 or 2.

Bloody comment spam

This blog is not especially widely read, but in spite of that those stupid bastards that love spamming evyerbody are delivering typically 150 to 180 comment spams PER DAY to me.

Fortunately the Wordpess spam detection software (Akismet) seems to be fairly effective, but I’d be much happier without this completely useless crud coming through each day.

Garganega

I was given a bottle of Domain Day Garganega the other day and opened it tonight.

There is very little of this grape grown in Australia, so this is a bit of an oddity.

But its a very nice white – quite a minerally flavour, it makes me think of poor soils with quartz and lots of small rocks around, vines struggling to produce.

A quick look at Mr Google shows that its actually very widely planted in Italy, and a vigorous vine that needs to be throttled back a bit. Still, I’ can live with my illusions.

For a change of the white wine scene, this one is worth searching out.

Top Gear!!

I’ve just discovered (by accident) the UK motoring show “Top Gear“, now I’m hooked.

I had heard of some show that can make or break a car model because the presenters are frank, fearless, and have a devastating turn of phrase. I’d never put the two together and figured the show was Top Gear.

We are getting repeats of it in Australia on SBS, Fridays, 2pm – 3pm. For some bizzarre reason we are getting episodes from 2004.

Some of the better clips are available from the BBC, for example:

5-a-side soccer

Land rover discovery up a mountain

Caravan conkers (listen for the comment about 2 grown men playing conkers with caravans – one replies “well its better than working in a bank”)

If you hunt around you can find the Winter olympics episode for download, which is worth watching just to see the Mini go down the ski jump!

Each week, these mad presenters do a serious review (devastating on the Toyota Prius), as well as a bunch of silly stuff. One of the most entertaining car shows EVER.

Feature demands in software

Nice article about feature demands in software.

Interesting point about trying to win over the haters. Don’t bother, they hate you and your product!

Electronic Road Signs

See what you can do with those electronic road signs.

Deputy Dawg is off to lick his masters hand

Our glorious leader the Prime Monster, John Winston Howard, is off on another overseas jaunt. He is scheduled to be in the USA, UK, and a few other places for a total of 13 days.

His last overseas jolly cost a mere $600,000.

If we assume a similar duration, then the wanderlust of Deputy Dawg is costing us taxpayers a mere $46,000 PER DAY.

That’s a lot of MY taxes for him to go and suck up to Mr Bush.

How on earth can this be justified?

Amalfi

A colleague from Malaysia was visiting at work for the last couple of days. A few of us kept him company by heading out for dinner somewhere each night.

So the other night we went to the Amalfi Pizzeria Ristorante in Frome St. My goodness what a great feed. Simple food, prepared well, with good ingredients.

None of that yuk muck that some Italian restaurants seem to have – though thankfully less of them than there used to be. Simple decor, a hard terrazo floor, lots of bustle, people coming and going, waiters busy as can be, and the old guy who probably owns the place mooching around with his tea-towel checking on the staff, the customers, peering out the door… Loads of character.

Good food, good coffee, a good chat, and watching some of the other diners… a pleasant way to spend an evening.

——–

Watching the other diners… About 10 pm, three LARGE gentlemen arrived, each with a bottle of red wrapped in tissue paper. Once seated they spent a lot of time in conversation – some with one of the waiters. Soon the table had a couple of open bottles, a lot of glasses, and three fellas swirling glasses of red: sniffing; tasting; drinking; talking. Looked like they were settling in for a long evening. Not a lot of food on their table.

Takes all sorts…

Planning

I’m going to scream sometime soon. If you hear a long blood-curdling shreik then you know I cannot stand being pulled in all directions do sort out the crises of bidding of others, and I’ve finally cracked.

Lack of planning on your part, does not constitute reason for crisis on my part.

AAARRRGGGHHHHHH

Commercial News

Found this great post about commercial TV news services in Brisbane. I agree!!!
Well, Mr Ozbhoy of Beer O’Clock, here in Adelaide we have the same crap on commercial TV as you do, and the joys of “A current affair” or :Today Tonight”, both of which run 5 nights a week with “current affairs”.

Current self-serving cross-promotional emotive crap, perhaps, but NOT current affairs.

And we have one crap newspaper, “The Advertiser”. Known to those in the know as “The Anaesthetiser”. A Murdock rag, it rarely contains a report of news, instead it is full of opinion-dressed-up-as-news, or just opinion, or just bullshit. I try to avoid it, most issues can be read in between 5 and 10 minutes.

Although the Fairfax papers are also mostly crap, thank heavens for “The Financial Review”. At least there is a tiny bit more depth, and a bit of analysis in what they report.

God help us if Little John and his Merry Men in Canberra get their way and relax the media ownership laws. The chance for anybody to get a remotely independent view will be killed forever, especially if Fairfax is gobbled up.

Richard Carlton

Richard Carlton dropped dead while covering the Beaconsfield mine rescue.

I’ve always thought he was a jumped-up arrogant prat.

Whilst I’m not be jumping for joy at your passing, Richard, I’m not mourning it either.

An amazing inventor: Stan Ovshinsky

Everybody, except a hermit, has come across Stan Ovshinsky. They probably don’t know it, though.

Stan who?

Stan is a serial inventor. Among the many things he and his company (ECD) have invented, are Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries, and the phase change material used in rewritable CD’s (CD-RW).

He has obviously been well backed – (from Wikipedia): “Over a period of about 40 years, it is estimated that ECD spent half a billion dollars before any profit was made.”

I’d come across Stan’s name indirectly a few years ago, knew nothing more, and though nothing more of it.

Then recently I found he had been awarded the 2005 Innovation Award for Energy and the Environment by The Economist [newspaper & see Wikipedia] for his pioneering work in, and the development of, the high-powered NiMH battery technology.

This revived a few memories and set me doing some digging.

—————–

I first came across Stan indirectly. Back in the 1990’s I was working in defence electronics, and we found the best flat panel displays in the world came from a company called OIS Optical Imaging Systems, in Michigan, USA.

OIS had been spun out of Ovshinsky’s ECD some time before. They made a lovely, though hideously expensive, flat panel liquid crystal display that was perfect for military aircraft cockpits.

Military displays have requirements far above those of commercial desktop displays, or even displays for commercial airliners.

The over-and-above requirements are generally for:

  • operation over a much wider temperature range – most commercial displays are rated for operation from about 10 degrees, to about 50 degrees; military displays need to work from typically -55 degrees C to about +70 degrees C, or thereabouts.
  • high levels of vibration – aircraft are terrible things, they shake the daylights out of everything put in them. Commercial aircraft are not too bad, but military aircraft are dreadful. Much commercial equipment is either shaken apart, or needs special shock and vibration proof mounting. That’s hard to do when stuff is bolted into a cockpit, the only choice is to build it tough in the first place.
  • redundancy – most flat panel displays are driven using row and column drivers. The columns will be driven from EITHER the top of the bottom, and the rows from EITHER the left or right. The OIS displays used an interleaved structure and drove from all 4 sides. Single failure of row or column drive meant the display looked terrible but was still readable. The electronics to drive an OIS display was an absolute pig to design, but the redundancy was a big selling point.

At the time, the common use of flat panel liquid crystal displays was still emerging, and the desktop flat screen we all have today was pretty much a pipe-dream. Those that were available cost many thousands of dollars, and the image quality was nothing like we see today. OIS, on the other hand, were way ahead of their time.

For the military customer and designer, they had another major advantage over every possible competitor: their design data was first class. In the years since, I have never seen anything to the same standard. Their written device specifications for the electrical, mechanical, and optical properties were simply superb.

OIS went through changes of ownership and management, which are described in “The days of OIS“, resulting in Ovshinksky losing control of the company. The politics of the time makes for fascinating reading.

OIS folded in September 1998 having lost millions of dollars, when its major shareholder refused to keep propping it up. Competition was intense from ruggedisers – who took commercial flat panel displays, and re-processed them to improve the ability to meet military requirements. The ruggesisers would usually buy a Japanese or Korean display, laminate extra optical layers on, and add modified driver electronics.

The failure of OIS threw the company I worked for into a spin (and me in particular because I was the main designer responsible for the displays).

By a massive stroke of good fortune, my employer was dealing with another US company that did the military backlighting for the OIS displays – they were in just as much of a pickle. They ended up recruiting some of the OIS technical staff, and buying some of the plant and equipment.

For me, a happy ending eventually ensued – the other company was able to buy flat panel displays from Korea, have them ruggedised, add their own backlighting, and sell complete modules. The modules did exactly what we wanted – perhaps being around during the OIS disaster and having a big influence on their product specification and development helped!

This quote from Dr Zvi Yaniv, the founder and former CEO of OIS, before he was ousted in one of the changes of ownership, is still pertinent to any technology company:

The failure of OISí management is due to the fact that they didnít understand the business, didnít understand the technology, didnít understand the people and didnít listen to any external advice. I am very sorry to see my creation being destroyed by incompetence.

Mr Paperclip we hate you

Found this by accident.

I don’t know anybody who likes the Microsoft painful pop-up paperclip that wants to help me. Even my 12 year old son can’t stand it.

This little video clip sums up my reaction very well. *Not safe for work – uses the F word*

Mr Clippy and his pals are really good examples of software that tries to be too clever and gets in the way. We need help systems that let us solve a problem, when we have a problem, and only when we have the problem. Gratuitously popping up and disrupting us is just plain rude.

1984

George Orwell had the year wrong but the principle right.

Lets compare just a few of the ideas of “1984″ with Bush 2’s “War on Terror”, as waged with his gleeful hangers-on, Messrs Blair and Howard.

War

“1984″ had an ongoing undercurrent of a continuous war being fought on some far-off border, where the newspapers continually published the great victories. The war was an excuse for all sorts of controls of the population.

Further, the war had been going so long that nobody knew who the enemy was, or even why they were supposed to be fighting. Winston Smith, the main character, had a few suspicions that the war may not actually exist – except as a publicity stunt by the government to rally the masses and keep going a never-ending sense of crisis.

Compare that with 2006. Bush 2, (aka The Shrub) has a “War on Terror”. There is no country or government that has been defined as the enemy. Because there is no way of knowing who the enemy is, there is no way of knowing if or when the “war” is won.

The “war” is used as an ongoing excuse for removing freedoms from citizens in the USA, UK and to a lesser extent Australia. In Australia it has led to proposals to introduce mandatory identity cards (like that will REALLY prevent some nutter from blowing up a bus!!!). In the USA it leads to the fingerprinting of foreign arrivals, and crazy things like no-fly lists – with large numbers of innocent peoples’ names on.

These measures, introduced in the name of “The War on Terror” are nothing more than measures to control and monitor either the population, or the evil untrustworthy foreigners. As Bruce Schneier points out, over and over again, in his monthly email “crypto-gram“, these things are nothing more than very expensive security theatre. They cost a lot of money, and MIGHT increase the feeling of security for some, but they achieve nothing practical at all.

Every now and again, when some semblance of normality is beginning to return, another recording of Osama Bin Laden appears. This is accompanied by a pronouncement from the White House that it has been deemed genuine. Well, they would say that wouldn’t they?

Like 1984, the pronouncements of the enemy appear, and are used by the governments to justify whatever they are up to that week.

We have no way of knowing Osama bin Laden is even still alive. In the meantime, the USA acts out its role as global bully, and wonders why people in some countries are grumpy with them.

Language

“1984″ introduced Newspeak, whose objective was to define a new language which would make unacceptable thinking impossible. Newspeak was terse – simple short sentences used to convey primarily political messages.

In the land of Bush 2, we don’t have Newspeak. Instead we have dissembling and careful semantics turned into an art form. For example, prisoners are held without trial as “enemy combatants”, but the enemy has not been defined and there has been no formal declaration of war. These people clearly are not prisoners of war, yet for years these people have been held without trial. If held on US soil, the Government would be on trial for illegal imprisonment, so by a simple ruse the people are held off-shore, thus placing them beyond the reach of the US legal system – except of course the parts of the US legal system that the US government wants to export to that other country so suit its particular end.

Similarly, when Condoleeza Rice made statements about prisoners being taken to foreign countries for torture, we were subjected to the language being tortured: Removal of prisoners for interrogation becomes “rendition”, and the answers to questions about torture in foreign countries were given very carefully so that they were always truthful, but never actually answered the question that was asked.

Surveillance

In “1984″, the ruling party extensive make use of cameras and surveillance to know what all of the citizens were doing, and were they were. Escaping the watching eye of “Big Brother” was next to impossible.

In 2006, we have new systems rolled out for tracking the movements of people. Much of this is for recording crimes and allowing later playback for evidence, and there is not a great deal of central networking – yet.

We do however have many, many devices that track our movements, and governments are using the “war on terror” as a reason to bring in more surveillance. Such systems are wonderful for generating false-positives, and pretty useless at detecting real terrorists.

Just think – if the terrorist looks like you or I, then how can we detect and track them? What makes them stand out? How do you prevent innocent people from an over-zealous government?

For us, “Big Brother” has become completely devalued by a TV show – a house full of middle class dimwits being manipulated for the titillation of the masses.

Manipulation of News

In “1984″, the only news was that sanctioned by the ruling party. This invariably gave the progress being made in the glorious war, and various good-news pronouncements about the wondrous achievements of the ruling party.

During the war in Iraq, the vast majority of the news media were “embedded journalists”, a euphamism for puppets being led by US forces, and fed all of their stories (”news”!!!) by US forces. When you control the journalists, who they see, what they see, what they say, and who they say it to – then you might was well just have a government propaganda agency.

Now, in 2006, we have an ever-increasing US body count in Iraq, but no images ever appear on US television of the coffins coming home. Bush 2 learned well from the nightly barrage of coffins during Vietnam. Controls on the news help to ensure that the only the government message gets out, and much that is critical is suppressed. It is an uphill battle, though – there are enough Bolshie US citizens that Bush 2 cannot control. He does his best, though.

In Australia, we had the unseemly spectacle of the former Minister of Communications, Senator Alston, accusing the ABC of bias during their reporting of the invasion of Iraq. Not just a single instance, he had something like 70 cases of “anti-US” bias. On investigation, most were dismissed and a few upheld. The ABC, meanwhile, must still watch every word it says to ensure that no government minister is stirred into trying to censor them.

Now that it is years after the invasion and the US is struggling to win the peace, much of that so-called anti-US “bias” is most likely proving to be fact. But we hear nothing but parsimonious crap from our government.

Citizens detained

In “1984″, citizens would go to the war, and never return. Nobody could ever be sure if they were really going to war and were killed, or if instead they were dissidents of the ruling party who had been eliminated.

In 2006, we have citizens detained as terror suspects, and the Australian Government has passed new anti-sedition laws that allow citizens to disappear for days at a time. They are forbidden all contact with family or lawyers, and if they say what has happened on their release they can be detained again!

Perhaps 2006 is not quite like “1984″, but there are only degrees of difference, and those points seem to be getting smaller qith each passing month.

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Why do we have a main opposition party who, for the most part, stands just a little behind “Deputy John”, saying pretty much the same things? Why can’t we have a strong, vibrant, free-thinking opposition with guts and personality, to really give a stirring to Deputy-Dowg and his pals, Blair and Bush?

Little John will never be removed while we have a main opposition party with the same policies as Little John, and the charisma of dishwater.

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1984 is available on-line!

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