Saturday 31 January 2004

It's all Bush's Fault

A Victim of no-one else but George W. Bush speaks:
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak my mind. I lost my job this past year. When Clinton was president I was secure and prosperous, but in the last year, we had to close our operations. We simply could not compete with foreign labor. This foreign labor worked for low pay under very bad conditions.

They worked very long shifts, and many even died on the job.

This competition could hardly be called "fair." I was forced out of the place where I had worked for 34 years.
Far worse, I lost two of my sons in Bush's evil war in Iraq.
I was reduced to the point where I had to live in a hole in a ground, all because of President Bush.
If Al Gore had been elected in 2000 I would still have a job, a home, and most importantly, my dear sons!
Read the rest of this poor unfortunate's story over at Cumudgeon's Corner.

Friday 30 January 2004

Shoddy Software, Subs and Spacecraft

From an article about the Australian Collins class submarines, in The Australian :
The combat system remains the outstanding issue, with the Government set to sign off on a multi-million dollar replacement later this year.

That will be based on the United States Navy Combat Control System Mark 2.

The combat system links the submarine's sonar, navigation and weapon systems, displaying all information on colour computer consoles in the control room.

When this system was specified in the late 1980s, the ADF was paddling uncharted waters as there was no comparable system in service in any navy.

Submariners call this the "legacy system" and say its 1980s computer architecture and archaic processing power could never hope to deal with the vast amount of information available.

By 1999 the problems had become clear. The McIntosh-Prescott report, prompted by "dud sub" headlines, said the combat system was nowhere near providing acceptable capability even six years after their launch.

The government agreed to fast track augmentation of the combat systems aboard submarines Dechaineux and Sheean using newer technology, courtesy of the US Navy.

Dechaineux captain Lieutenant Commander Simon Rusiti, who has experienced both systems, says the augmented model is a substantial improvement and the new system will be even better.

One obvious manifestation is what is called the contact evaluation plot ? a log of sonar contacts and course changes ? which under the old system, used by submariners for half a century, involved pencil notations on a long roll of paper. It's now fully computerised.

The old combat system glitched frequently and simply wasn't capable of handling multiple contacts, limiting its usefulness in a hostile situation.

"This is definitely a vast improvement over the original system," Commander Rusiti said this week.

"We are now capable of working in high contact areas. There are parts of South-East Asia where we have seen up to 600 fishing boat contacts in an hour.

"Some times we get tiny glitches but only once in the last six months have we had to reboot the combat system."

The full capabilities of the Collins' sensors and combat system, like much submarine technology, remains a closely guarded secret.
ISUS-90Oh Dear. Oh Dearie, Dearie me. Being able to deal with 600 contacts/hour is not great performance by my standards. 6 months between resets is good though, or rather, is adequate.

Let's just say that the STN-Atlas ISUS-90 system (see picture to right) that I worked on 10 years ago now has rather better performance. So now we have to make do with a second-rate system from the US, purely for political reasons.. STN-Atlas will get paid off by the Australian taxpayer, and the same mob that made such an apalling mess of the Collins will get yet another go at getting it right.

From a Parliamentary Report on the Collins Class :
One of the recommendations of the report by Malcolm McIntosh and John Prescott on the problems of the Collins submarines, delivered in mid-1999, was that its combat system should be replaced by a proven, off-the-shelf product. This recommendation was accepted by the Government; the evaluation of potential suppliers had reportedly been concluded in favour of the STN Atlas ISUS 90-55 system when, in July 2001, the Minister suspended the program.

The reason was the Government's desire to maximise opportunities for closer cooperation with the USA on submarines. At the time, the decision created some confusion about the potential impact of ANZUS alliance issues on future Defence procurement. In some areas, it was seen as questioning the balance between the concepts of 'alliance' and 'self reliance', at the centre of the development of defence policy since the 1976 white paper. Further, the decision is likely to delay the program by about a year. As a result of it, the Government will have to manage the risk arising from the situation that, as yet, no combat system is available within the parameters of the policy on cooperation.

The only potentially suitable system, the CCS Mk2, produced by the American company Raytheon, is used by United States Navy (USN) nuclear powered submarines. There are sufficient differences between these and a conventional submarine of the Collins type to make the transition neither simple nor assured. The risks to be managed include integration with the existing systems on the Collins class, modifications to work in the less well-supported environment of a conventional submarine and avoiding pressures to include non-essential system enhancements. A system successfully developed to avoid these problems will be unique to RAN service.

Nonetheless, a trouble-free development cannot be assured. Raytheon, for instance, has been unable to satisfactorily conclude its contract to upgrade the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) AP-3C maritime surveillance aircraft, elements of which are now running 42 months late. The lessons of the recent history of Defence procurement are that neither sponsorship by the US Armed Forces nor development by corporate America can guarantee success in systems integration programs.
Ah well, enough of Subs. What about Spacecraft? From Spaceflight Now :
"And in that we realized that we had this reset problem. Based on just kind of the hunch of our lead software architect, he believed that the problem was probably associated with the mounting of flash and initialization. There is a hardware command that we can send that bypasses the software where we can actually tell the hardware to not allow us to mount flash on initialization. When we the next day actually sent the command to do that, software initialized normally and was behaving like the software that we had always known. It was a fantastic moment."

"Once we got into the mode where we could command the vehicle to get into a software state that we understood, then we were able to collect data. That is the path that we are on right now."

"Right now, our most likely candidate for the issue has been narrowed down a little bit. It is really an issue with the file system in flash. Essentially, the amount of space required in RAM to manage all of the files we have in flash is apparently more than we initially anticipated."

"We have been collecting data and collecting data thanks to (the science team) and we have lots and lots of files on the spacecraft. That's good -- we intended to have lots and lots of files on the spacecraft. This is a new problem that we encountered based on having many files. "

"We are currently in a much more specific debugging activity. Today (Monday), we started to dump out some of flash. We are actually loading a script that we get kind of the task trace on the software and identify exactly where the problem was in the code so we can make sure that our hunch is correct."
Ten out of Ten for some excellent debugging at an interplanetary distance, but minus several million for piss-poor testing and bloody awful software engineering with the mass memory. More Data than expected = Corrupt the whole system. Bleah. So much for "Software should be ductile, not brittle" slowly abrading away due to problems rather than shattering into a thousand fragments at the first hitch. Never mind, the Systems Engineering was good, as the system as a whole can be made to recover in a relatively straightforward way - scrap the contents of the Flash RAM, reformat, and restart. A few weeks and Spirit will be fully operational.

I bet the Software Architect is kicking himself though - he knew there was a problem in this area, he just didn't know he knew it till it happened. Been there, done that, and There But For The Grace of God Go I. Nice recovery though - everyone makes mistakes, but only the really good engineers can fix them. I prefer my mistakes to be found before the thing goes into service though. Less embarressing that way.

Thursday 29 January 2004

Wednesday 28 January 2004

The Many Uses of Vegemite

Thermal Transfer CompundsAs Thermal Transfer Compund(Thermal Grease), for example. Outperforms some leading brands, at least initially, but is in turn out-performed by Toothpaste.

The more usual use for the stuff (Vegemite, not Toothpaste) is well described on the web. The recommended dose - 5 grams - is really for the neophyte. Aussie kids spread it on with a trowel, and can't get enough of it. Maybe it's something in the water, I don't know.

Some quotes from non-Australians about this wondrous stuff :
...can be bought in some health stores and isn't really the canned stool sample that rumour claim it is.
Some friends we made in L.A. tried a little vegemite one day during our visit. Their reaction was very polite (they tried not to screw up their faces too much as they were eating it). The verdict - "you mean you guys really eat this stuff? VOLUNTARILY? Someone else stated it had the colour and consistency of axle grease!
Americans who have managed to put this taste sensation into words variously
describe vegemite as like:

  • soy sauce

  • a stock (bouillon) cube

  • anchovies

  • the scrapings off a fish tank

  • motor oil

  • salty axle grease

  • salty shoe polish

  • tar

  • composted gym socks

Monday 26 January 2004

I've been Everywhere, Man

Well... not exactly. Here's a map showing where I have been though.

create your own visited country map

(Link via Prof Hall)

Sunday 25 January 2004

If I was CNN...

This is what my blog would look like.

Today's Interesting URL is the Website Mixmaster. Just put in one URL for the format, another for the content, and you're away.

The Latest from Mars

The best place to look for up-to-the-minute information on the Mars Rovers is Spaceflight Now's site. Lots of links to pictures, all the latest news.

The Spirit team have done a great job of remote diagnosing of the problems that rover has had. Basically, it's a hardware problem in a segment of the memory, the so-called "Flash RAM". This is a bit like the BIOS on your computer (assuming you're using a Wintel box), inasmuch as it's memory that's always readable, but only writeable under special conditions. It retains its contents even if the machine is switched off. (To Computer Geeks out there, please cut me some slack with this gross simplification, OK?).

Anyway, Spirit's Flash Ram is broken. She's a no-work, Luigi. Or rather, it nearly works, or most of it does, anyway. Hence the periodic resets, when the data from the broken section is read - it's corrupted.

Now fortunately, one of the many ways of operating Spirit is to use normal RAM instead of Flash RAM. Fedsat had the same properties, it could "Boot" in any of 3 different ways - from the Flash RAM, from the Mass Memory Unit (normal RAM), or via direct commands from the ground. It's a fairly standard way of doing things in Spaceflight Software.

So the Spirit is off the Critical list, and after a few weeks of rest and recuperation (and re-programming), will be back in full working order. Now that Opportunity has landed, and is in good shape, we'll see if it was a one-off or a systemic problem that will plague that rover too. But if so, no matter. It's being fixed.

Spirit Rover Problems

According to this Press Release from the Mars Exploration Rover site, the Mars Rover Spirit is suffering the equivalent of Epilepsy.

Approximately every hour, something goes deeply wrong, and the system resets.

This could be due to any number of possible causes - hardware problems causing periodic discharges ( an RC circuit ), or more likely, the Software is periodically getting its knickers in a twist, throwing up its hands in horror, and saying "I Give Up". If the latter, the cause may occur well before the actual event, depending on the Software Architecture. One thing's for sure, remote debugging over interplanetary distances is Tricky.

Oh, by the way, when they first tried to communicate with the Rover, we were having the most spectacular thunderstorm I've seen in 20 years of living in Canberra. I counted 53 strokes over a period of 2 minutes at its height, mainly chain and sheet lightning, though we got a ground strike on a tree about 50 metres away.

Saturday 24 January 2004

Hubble Trouble

One of the many unfortunate side-effects of the Columbia failing on re-entry is that there aren't enough Shuttle missions left to both service the ISS (International Space Station) and service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). In fact, I personally doubt if there are enough to fulfill all the obligations of the USA is servicing the ISS...
So currently the days of the HST are numbered. There will be no Hubble Space Mission 4 (SM4) to service it. Hence the following call for help (forwarded by a mate of mine):
To give you an idea of the scope of this work, one part of the spectrum will examine ways to carry out the work for SM4 without using a shuttle (robotic servicing, remote manipulator servicing, human servicing by countries such as Russia) to extend the life of HST as originally planned. On the other end of the spectrum, we will assume no more visits before a de-orbiting mission and look at the technical means to extend the life of the observatory (e.g. cycling the power off at night to conserve batteries, going immediately to 2-gyro mode to preserve the gyros, etc.) We promise to consider all ideas, regardless of how wacky they may first appear (I have seen some pretty wacky ones so far.
So.... any ideas, please e-mail me and I'll forward them, along with any I happen to think of.

Tuesday 20 January 2004

The Slings and Arrows

...of outrageous fortune have caused blogging to be very sporadic this month. In fact, they've not been so much slings and arrows as bloody great howitzers and machine guns. Let's see, so far in 2004:
  • Out of the blue, a good friend of mine had some sort of stroke on the 2nd of January, and died two days later. I was Best Man at her wedding (to another good friend of mine) two years ago and I've been trying to give what comfort I can to a grieving widower.
  • The day Louise died (Dave and I were with her at the end, 0230), I was put on "indefinite unpaid leave", basically, I lost my job.
  • Then my sister broke her ankle very badly, and I had to tranport her to the hospital, and look after her overnight - but had to work (unpaid) all day Saturday and Sunday on a tender due at 2pm on Monday.
  • Three days ago, I received an e-mail from a friend of mine in the USA - her husband has just been diagnosed with extensive small-cell lung cancer, and has at best months to live. I'm still in shock over this one, her daughter is supposed to be visiting Australia in a few months as part of a Youth Orchestra.
  • And my favourite niece is now in hospital up in Sydney, suffering from clinical depression.
2004 has really, really, really not been a wonderful year so far.

I'd say it can only get better, but in fact, things could be a lot worse.

Friday 16 January 2004

Self Assessment

As a follow-up to Design Your Own Hell, I invite readers to take a self-assessment. Here's mine:

The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to the First Level of Hell - Limbo!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very High
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Very Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)High
Level 7 (Violent)Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Divine Comedy Inferno Test

Charon ushers you across the river Acheron, and you find yourself upon the brink of grief's abysmal valley. You are in Limbo, a place of sorrow without torment. You encounter a seven-walled castle, and within those walls you find rolling fresh meadows illuminated by the light of reason, whereabout many shades dwell. These are the virtuous pagans, the great philosophers and authors, unbaptised children, and others unfit to enter the kingdom of heaven. You share company with Caesar, Homer, Virgil, Socrates, and Aristotle. There is no punishment here, and the atmosphere is peaceful, yet sad.

Actually... I can live with that (so to speak), as long as those who I love are there or in a better place. In fact, playing games with the unbaptised infants and making them laugh would be my idea of Heaven, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

It's been found!

No, not Saddam's cache of WMDs. That's still to come - after all, hidden stockpiles of Japanese gas weapons from WW II are still claiming lives.

No, it's a long lost Dr Who Episode, the first one recovered from the bit-bucket since 1999. Ya Who!

Today's Brain Article : BrainGate

A piece of good news. From Wired :
Five quadriplegic patients might be months away from testing a brain-computer interface created by Cyberkinetics, a privately held company in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The company's system, called BrainGate, could help patients with no mobility to control a computer, a robot or eventually their own rewired muscles, using only their thoughts. If the trials go well, a product could be on the market by 2007.

Cyberkinetics already has trained monkeys to move a cursor using only thought, and has asked the Food and Drug Administration for permission to test the device on humans. Tim Surgenor, the company's president and CEO, said he expects his researchers will be plugging five people into BrainGates by the end of 2004.

China's Space Plans Updated

From the ABC :
Around the same time as President George W Bush was unveiling the next steps in America's space exploration program, China announced its space plans.

The country's official newsagency says China aims to launch 10 satellites this year, along with a lunar probe in December.

The country will also try to land an unmanned vehicle on the Moon by 2010.

Within the next two years China will put another astronaut, possibly two, into space.

Thursday 15 January 2004

Top of the Blogs

The 2004 Australian Blog Awards are taking votes at the moment.

Thanks to all who nominated A.E.Brain in the "Best ACT Blog" and "Best Technical Blog" categories.

My personal favourites in these categories?

ACT Blogs : Funnily enough, all the nominated ACT blogs with any political content seem to be fairly right-wing, like me.

Tech Blogs : I've no idea how much cred this poll has. But I do know that when looking through the nominated blogs, I found some real gems.

And my thanks to those who nominated this blog. I'll try to live up to your expectations.


No, not a misprint.

Today's "Interesting URL" is Technovelgy's archive of interesting technological news clippings. Some of the latest subjects: Technovelgy also has as its primary theme a list of "Inventions from Science Fiction". Telling the lists of SF Inventions from Real ones is getting increasingly difficult as time goes by. Which I suppose is to be expected.

Bush gets it Right

From Space Daily :
President George W. Bush on Wednesday unveiled plans for a US return to the moon as early as 2015, saying a lunar base would be a launch pad for manned missions to Mars and "across our solar system."

"We do not know where this journey will end, yet we know this, human beings are headed into the cosmos," he said at the headquarters of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The plan calls for completing US obligations to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2010, and retiring the agency shuttle fleet around that time, with the goal of replacing it with a new "Crew Exploration Vehicle" that could carry humans to the moon and beyond.

The new Crew Exploration Vehicle would be tested by 2008 and conduct its first manned mission no later than 2014, the White House said, while work on the ISS would focus on research into the effects on humans of space travel.

US astronauts could return to the moon as early as 2015 but at least by 2020, and setting up a base to sustain "an extended human presence," the president said.
I think 2008 is probably wayyyy too ambitious for getting a reliable system up and running, given the parlous state of the US manned space programme. But apart from that, I think he´s spot-on.

As I said in previous posts, robots do science better than people. But scientific research isn´t the only reason for space exploration, we need to colonise the solar system, not just observe it. In Signs and Portents, I played up the Lunar Base angle, and didn´t mention Mars at all. This is because I see a Lunar Base as being, if not absolutely neccessary, then a really useful first step along the way.

Consider: it will take several months to get to Mars. Then it will take a year before the return journey can start. This means we really should get our act together in setting up extended-stay missions in inhospitable environments first.
"With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: Human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond," said Bush.

There's another issue too. In the short term, we need a permanent - though not neccessarily self-sustaining - lunar base. In the medium term, a self-sustaining base would be very desirable. One containing a reasonably diverse biosphere, with a lot of genetic variation. This is because there are far too many plausible accidents that can press the "Intelligent Life Reset" button on planet Earth, from runaway Greenhouse to runaway Iceworld, from super-duper Volcanoes to larger-than-average cometary impacts. Most of these would merely wipe out Civilisation, and that would be recoverable given a hundred thousand years. Most of the remainder would merely wipe out Humanity and most other animals larger than a matchbox, but that too is recoverable given a few hundred million years. But there are accidents that would wipe out all but a few lithophilic bacteria, and sterilise the place to a depth of several kilometres. That would set the place back billions of years, enough so that the odds of Intelligent life evolving again before the Sun starts becoming a "fixer-upper" are too long.

This may in fact be why SETI hasn't picked up anything. The Universe is a dangerous place for species confined to a single planet. By having 2, we greatly increase the odds of survival in the long term. We may cut the downtime due to an unfortunate accident from thousands to hundreds of years, from millions to thousands, or from billions to millions.

It can be argued that if we're talking about such long-term issues, what's the hurry? Whether we go boldly forth etc. now in 200X or in 900X doesn't matter much. But the problem with that, as we've seen after Apollo, is that tomorrow never comes. There's always something more important on the agenda, be it saving the starving millions or subsidising theatre. The money that was budgeted for Lunar exploration was instead diverted to "good works", Health, Education and Welfare. Now if it had made a significant difference to those areas, it would be hard not to argue that the money was well spent. But is the US now free of poverty, or even significantly less burdened by social security compared with 1970? Has the educational system improved so much that it was worth the lost opportunities? Is the US Health system so greatly improved that it's a model for the world to follow? I think not. Individuals may have benefitted, but then again, it may be that the additional injection of funds just generated more Pork for the barrel, and took some worthwhile projects with it. Any benefits appear to have been "lost in the noise" compared to the opportunities foregone.

But that's in the past. We must now look towards the future. Because that's what the Chinese are doing.

Heck, maybe I won't go to the Moon, but maybe Andrew will.

UPDATE : The Cumudgeon's view :
My last thought for the time being is that if we get bogged down in arguments over details and implementation, there will still be people going to the Moon in the fullness of time. But they will speak Chinese.
Also via the Cumudgeon, a link to the full text of Bush's speech.

Voyage to Arcturus points out a few more steps on the way to Mars. Maybe Phobos and Deimos first.

Rand Simberg at Transterrestrial Musings :
While I'm glad that the president has stated a national goal of finally getting humans beyond earth orbit, I'm disappointed that those humans are apparently to continue to be NASA employees, who the rest of us watch, voyeuristically, on television. NASA was not just given the lead--it was apparently given sole responsibility. There was no mention of private enterprise, or of any activities in space beyond "exploration" and "science." It was encouraging to hear a president talk about the utilization of extraterrestrial resources, but only in the context of how to get to the next milestone.
Good points.

Prof Hall has a post about some advantages to a Lunar Base that I wasn't aware of.

The Rocket Man has a neat roundup.

Wednesday 14 January 2004

Star Wars Down Under

Standard Missile LaunchFrom The Australian :
An Australian decision to join the US in developing a long-range missile defence shield would destabilise regional security, Indonesia's chief foreign ministry spokesman warned today.

Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill today said Indonesia was comfortable with Canberra's decision to proceed with planning for a missile shield, which in Australia's case could be based around advanced air defence warships equipped with long-range missiles.
Djoko Susilo, a member of the Indonesian parliament's commission for security, defence and foreign affairs, yesterday said Australia's consideration of air warfare destroyers for the navy capable of shooting down ballistic missiles in space was an aggressive move.
Leaving aside the Indonesian fulmination about Australia´s aggression in deciding it should be able to avoid being a helpless target for any Ballistic Missile that wanders our way, there are some items of technical interest.

It appears that our Lords and Masters have decided that we need things called Standard SM-2(ER) Block IV-A´s. These are basically common-or-garden anti-aircraft missiles on steroids. But they do have one unusual property: they´ve been proven to have an ABM (Anti Ballistic Missile) Capability. At least against "short- and medium-range ballistic missiles".

A test on December 11th scored a direct contact hit on an incoming ballistic missile with a similar profile to that of a Scud or North Korean NoDong.

It´s important to realise that hitting an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) is rather more difficult. Systems like this are designed as Theatre Ballistic Missile Defences, not Strategic ones. They´re for KO´ing incoming tactical missiles, usually headed towards ports or friendly form-up areas.

Such a capability is directly relevant to the types of activity Australia has engaged in recently, where we´ve sent in Naval Task Forces into the Gulf and elsewhere, sometimes in conjunction with the US Navy, but sometimes alone. Acquiring some Air-and-Space Defence ships will enable the ADF (Australian Defence Forces) to protect our own expeditionary forces, without having to rely on the US.

Tuesday 13 January 2004

Back On-Line

A tumultuous week. Work over the weekend, several trips to 2 different hospitals, one funeral of a good friend. Something had to give, and one of the many things was blogging. However, the panic is now officially over, at least till next time.

I've had better starts to a year.

Tuesday 6 January 2004

Normal Service

...will be resumed as soon as possible. Probably in a few days. Real Life TM is getting in the way at the moment, involving hospital, funeral etc. Not my immediate family, but close friends.

Saturday 3 January 2004

Turn of Phrase of the Week

From The Independant :
"The people have spoken... the bastards."
The story in full:
It was trailed as a "unique chance to rewrite the law of the land". Listeners to BBC Radio 4's Today programme were asked to suggest a piece of legislation to improve life in Britain, with the promise that an MP would then attempt to get it onto the statute books.

But yesterday, 26,000 votes later, the winning proposal was denounced as a "ludicrous, brutal, unworkable blood-stained piece of legislation" - by Stephen Pound, the very MP whose job it is to try to push it through Parliament.

Mr Pound's reaction was provoked by the news that the winner of Today's "Listeners' Law" poll was a plan to allow homeowners "to use any means to defend their home from intruders" - a prospect that could see householders free to kill burglars, without question.

"The people have spoken," the Labour MP replied to the programme, "... the bastards."

Having recovered his composure, Mr Pound told The Independent: "We are going to have to re-evaluate the listenership of Radio 4."
Fatuously Post-Modernist even for a Politician: if the data doesn´t match the theory, change the data.

Friday 2 January 2004

Virtual Brunch

A bit of shameless name-dropping here : I attended a New Year´s Day Brunch in Minneapolis, along with Gnat and James Lileks, hosted by Gnat´s Nana, she of the best-darned-caramels-ever-seen-on-the-planet.

Well, I attended by phone, anyway. Less calories.

While we´re on the subject of name-dropping, may I recommend having a squizz at The Command Post, especially Alans and Micheles review of "2003 : That Was The Year, That Was". Some highlights:
In the first few weeks, we broke one million visitors. We were featured in Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post, Newsday, several radio shows and a myriad of other publications I can't think of off the top of my head. We were being fed tips by important people at important locations. We were linked to by major media outlets. It was an interesting time.

Thursday 1 January 2004

Interesting URLs for 2004

10 Adverts you won´t see in the USA, including an award-winning one that lasts 2 minutes, and is really a short film rather than an advert.

And a highly addictive download (for Windows and Mac), Ball Droppings, which can be described as a multimedia instrument, a software toy, or a virtual kinetic sculpture. (Thanks to

Talking about multimedia instrument downloads, the BBC has a Theramin emulator for Windows. The Theramin is the instrument that produces the peculiarly spooky music that is found in old 50s Science Fiction Films, and has a particularly interesting history.


Happy New Year

4 years ago, during the turnover 1999-2000, I didn´t spend the time partying like it was 1999. I spent it in front of a computer, with a phone next to me, calling various hospitals in Australia and posting e-mails to Pittsburgh, PA.

There's a 17 hour time difference between Canberra and (for instance) Minneapolis. My (acting, unpaid, supernumary) job was to canvass the local medical centres and report any Y2k problems that were critical to a central point. I couldn&acut;t save someone here in Oz whose Life Support system suddenly went on the Fritz, but by relaying the make and model of the equipment, I might be able to save dozens or hundreds in the USA and Europe.

I finally went to bed about 7 am local time - with no major problems reported, and remarkably few minor ones.

We coped pretty well with Y2k. There will be a few glitches in late February this year, there always are on leap-years. The boundaries of Human Stupidity are constantly expanding. But we should be right, at least until 2038.