Wednesday 31 March 2004

Today's Brain Link(s)

Brain in a VatCourtesy of Normblog : The Brain in a Vat conundrum. Anyone who's studied Philosophy will get a chuckle out of the numerous "in-jokes", most of which are explained for the Layperson. Worth a read even for the Philosophically Challenged.

The History of the article is also worth a read in its own right.

While searching for a suitable illustration, I happened to come across a Symposium on the Neuro-Ethics of Brain Damage, which although a bit dry in parts, I have a particular interest in. I suffered some neurological damage due to E-II viral Encephalo-Meningitis in my early 20's. (You could tell, right?). But apart from some lingering Aphasia, and a bit of numbness in the extremities, I've got back over 90% of what I'd lost, and most of that within 10 years of the injury. On the other hand, I gained a greatly increased ability to pick up new languages, an ability that had atrophied almost completely before I'd reached my mid-teens (as my school marks in Latin and German can attest to).

I found the section on Neuro-Prosthetics... very disappointing. The last article in Session 3 was all about the problems poised by damage to the Hippocampus. Yet there was nothing about developments that will make the problems moot in the near future. <sarcasm>It's almost as if Computer Scientists, Psychologists, Neuro-Anatomists and Ethicists aren't talking to one another. </sarcasm>

Not exactly surprising. But as I've blogged before, computational developments (at least) are rapid in this area, even if Psychology is still mostly guesswork. We need to start considering this stuff from an ethical viewpoint, and do it PDQ.

Finally, sthe graphic comes from Brainjar.Com, an interesting site containing experiments in advanced HTML. An avowed "learning resource" rather than a "cut'n'paste" site, useful for anyone wanting to know about Document Object Models (DOM) etc. Worth a look for the expert, and even more so for those wanting to become experts.

Tuesday 30 March 2004

Last Post for the first Blogger

Alistair Cooke 1908-2004
Alistair Cooke

A Guide to English Pronunciation

From LOL, courtesy of G'day Mate. Priceless.

A Slice of History

1914-1915 StarRecently, I became aware that the UK Public Record Office was publishing their Medal Records from World War I on the web. The Great War. The War to End All Wars.

The medals concerned events of nearly a century ago now. But I still remember vividly my Grandad talking to me about his experiences during World War I, at a time when I was just a little older than my son, Andrew is today. I was fascinated by his right hand - the thumb was just a stub, and he only had two fingers, quite different from my own.

He told me of his time in Egypt, when the 9th Battalion, Notts and Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) was training up after being formed. Seeing the Sphinx, and the Pyramids. Stories of the Camel Corps ( he wasn't impressed by Camels - riding them without a saddle was incredibly difficult. He mastered the art, but was never comfortable on them.)

As a sniper, he spent most of his time between the lines of trenches, in "No Man's Land", hunting other snipers. Though he told me that his main duty in the Dardenelles was shooting the pottery insulators of the main telegraph line that ran along a ridge nearly a mile behind enemy lines. Every day, the British snipers would take "pot-shots" at it, and every night the Turks would repair it.

When I was a little older, and made an Airfix plastic model of an Albatross DV, he told me the one thing that really terrified him was when he was caught in No Man's Land by a group of exactly these aircraft, all painted with red noses, who used him for target practice. He had nowhere to hide, couldn't run, and had great difficulty shooting back at such fast-moving targets. From later researches, it's quite probable that the one with the red fuselage (who was a particularly good shot) was the infamous Baron Von Richthofen, though Grandad didn't know that when he told me about it. (The Red Baron was all of 25 when he was killed in 1918). His fire was probably more effective than he realised - he must have gotten uncomfortably close to some of them, as they soon went after easier and more worthwhile prey.

That brings me to the Medal Records. So far, only the A-B section is available. There are few advantages to having a surname like "Brain", but this is one case where it was useful. I used the (free) Search Form, then got out my Credit card and paid my three pounds for a download of Grandad's records.

I've made them available free of charge here as a 186k PDF file. Grandad's records are in the bottom-right of the second page.

Grandad must have enlisted as soon as he was old enough, on 9th November, 1914. His first taste of action was at a place called Gallipoli. As a sniper, he went in in the first wave of every landing, to cover the disembarkation of the main force. Then off again, and onto the next one. Naturally, the snipers were also the last out, covering the evacuation.

The 9th battalion (after replacement and reorganisation) was sent to the Western Front, and in August 1916 took part in the Battle of the Somme, and later, Passchendaele.

The medal records show that Grandad was eventually discharged due to grave wounds on 14th December, 1918 (Hence the award of the Silver War Badge). Much of his right arm and hand had been blown off, his lungs had been damaged by Mustard Gas and Chlorine over the years (and had lost a pir of boots, burnt by a shell that fell between his feet...but didn't detonate), and his torso was full of shrapnel. He'd still sometimes find one or two bits in his bed as late as the 60's, and a piece eventually worked its way into his heart and killed him shortly after I last saw him.

The odds of anyone enlisting in 1914, seeing action on the front line, and surviving nearly intact were slim. The odds of anyone on the front line surviving the entire war from 1914 through to 1918 mostly whole were astronomical. The odds of surviving Gallipoli, and the Somme, and Passchendaele, and being shot at by the Red Baron... beggar the imagination. Yet had he not, my Father wouldn't have been born, and thus neither would I, nor my son Andrew.

Which gives me pause.

Monday 29 March 2004

"Liberty" University

Liberty University AlumnusAt first, I thought their Code of Conduct was a parody. But looking through the website, and examining the HTML source, it looks very much as if it's for real.

A selection of offences and penalties :
4 Reprimands + Written Warning
  • Improper personal contact (anything beyond hand-holding)
  • Improper sign out
  • Music code violation
6 Reprimands + $35 Fine
  • Attendance at a dance
  • Possession and/or use of tobacco
12 Reprimands + $70 Fine (less previously paid fines)
  • Attendance at, possession or viewing of, an "R," "NC-17" or "X"-rated movie
  • Participation in an unauthorized petition or demonstration
18 Reprimands + $100 Fine (regardless of previously paid fines) + 18 hours Disciplinary Community Service + 50% Scholarship Reduction
  • Association with those consuming alcohol
  • Sexual misconduct and/or any state of undress
30 Reprimands + $150 Fine (regardless of previously paid fines) + 30 hours Disciplinary Community Service + possible Administrative Withdrawal and/or possible 100% Scholarship Reduction. NOTE: For each accumulation of six (6) or more reprimands after 30, an additional $150 fine will be assessed.
  • Failure of three (3) Christian/Community Services without reconciliation
  • Non-participation/disruption/non-compliance (possible removal/exclusion from campus)
  • Refusal to submit to an Alco-Sensor test and/or drug test
Anyone in Academe reading this post who has trouble with unruly students - just refer them to this site, and tell them to thank their lucky stars. To paraphrase Arthur Dent, "This is some strange new meaning of the word 'Liberty' which I wasn't previously aware of.

Still, anyone who goes to this place should know what to expect.

Sunday 28 March 2004

Hamas - in their own words

Over at The Command Post, they've reprinted an article of mine about Hamas. In order to understand the organisation, you have only to read their charter. Scary stuff, especially if you're Jewish, or a Rotarian. (Rotarian ? - just go read it. These people are "reality challenged")

Thursday 25 March 2004

Tuesday 23 March 2004

Maybe Pigs really are Flying

From a previous post of December 20, The Tragedy of Transnationalism :
Can the UN be salvaged? I really hope so, but I´m not confident any more. Maybe 3rd Time´s the charm, and we should start with something less ambitious than the UN. Something where a broad adherence to the principles of the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms is required for membership, with continuous review. Something with Teeth to enforce those principles on Tyrannies, yet the flexibility to tolerate minor differences of doctrine - Gay Marriage, Capital Punishment, Gun or Drug Availability, that sort of thing.

Initial members: US, UK, Poland, Spain, Australia?

Maybe the Tragedy of Transnationalism will turn into a Triumph.

Maybe Pigs will Fly.

We can but hope.
Now have a look at this article dated March 19 from the National Journal :
In 1996, a private group called the United Nations Association of the United States of America floated the idea of a caucus solely for democracies. With 120 or so nations (out of 191 U.N. members), such a caucus could serve as a powerful counterweight to the traditional caucuses.

Late in the second Clinton administration, with a push from the State Department, the democracies began to organize. In 2000, 106 democracies gathered for the first meeting of an informal group they called the Community of Democracies. It had no permanent staff or formal powers, but it did produce an endorsement, in principle, of a democracy caucus at the U.N., a stance that the community reaffirmed in a second meeting in 2002 and, most recently, at a U.N. meeting last fall.
Predictions are risky, but where you see an acorn, it is not crazy to foresee an oak. With a little light and water, the democracy caucus will inevitably grow. In time -- you heard it first here -- it may overshadow the U.N.

In New York, gaining leverage at the U.N. serves the interests of America and all of the other democracies. In Washington, a democracy caucus appeals to conservatives who want America to influence the U.N., and it appeals to liberals who want the U.N. to influence America. "It's a way, in my opinion, of preserving the United Nations as a valuable institution, so it does not follow the path of the League of Nations," says Max M. Kampelman, who was a senior diplomat in the Carter and Reagan administrations.
Guess that makes me a mildly Conservative Liberal. Or a very Liberal Conservative.
But consider the long-term potential. By the time the Community of Democracies becomes strong enough to act coherently inside the U.N., it will also be strong enough to act coherently outside the U.N. It will contain most of the world's countries, including most of the strong ones. It will be unencumbered by the vetoes of tin-pot tyrannies. As it gains confidence and skill, it will attract money and authority. It may sprout an aid budget, a relief program, a peacekeeping arm, perhaps treaty powers.

In other words, the Community of Democracies may begin as a voice within the U.N. but go on to become a competitor to the U.N. Perhaps -- one can dream -- it may someday be the U.N.'s successor.

"United Nations" is an oxymoron. Democracies and dictatorships are mongoose and cobra, with no real hope of uniting except opportunistically. But a community of democracies -- that might just work. It already works in NATO and the E.U. The new community is a fledgling, but many readers of this article may live to see it soar.
What's that going overhead now? And do I hear the faint sound of Oinking?

Recursive : see Recursive

An immensely useful URL : One Look - a Search Engine of Dictionaries. Find out the definitions of a word given in all major on-line dictionaries. Invaluable if you want to find out how English As She Is Spoke differs from country to country.

As an exercise for non-Australian readers, try using it to have a look at what the (Australian) Macquarie Dictionary has to say about the word "root". For Australian readers, use it to find out what the word means in the rest of the world.

Monday 22 March 2004

Yeti, Penguins and Orcas

Today's interesting URL comes courtesy of BlackTriangle.Org, a site primarily about the responsible use and manufacture of medication. It also very rarely has some political content, though what there is is always cogent and pithy.

But apart from enlightening me as to what "Rhinotillexomania" (never know when that word might come in handy) means, there's a link to Yeti Sports.

"Medical Authorities warn that playing these games is highly addictive."

Or, as The Scotsman says,
It terms of addictiveness it makes crack cocaine look like chamomile tea.
There. You have been warned. Now to see if I can better my score of 398.1....


As opposed to multiculturalism, this is Wankology.
Australia's multiculturalism is being celebrated across the country today, with a variety of events to mark 'Harmony Day'.
Thousands of people have been taking part in events including beachside citizenship ceremonies and street festivals.
The event began in 1999 to promote cohesion and harmony in diverse communities - 23 per cent of Australia's current population was born overseas.
The Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Gary Hardgrave, says the day is gaining significance as more Australians realise the need to work together regardless of their background.
Mr Hardgrave says the celebration of national Harmony Day plays an important part in promoting racial tolerance.
He says integration creates a win-win situation for everyone.
"Integration simply means you bring who you are to the business of Australia," Mr Hardgrave said.
"This country is attractive to people who have come from all around the world to be here, to live here."
Mr Hardgrave encourages everyone to wear orange and participate in community events to help promote a feeling of belonging.
Trendoid Happy-Feely "Harmony Days" and Politicians urging the wearing of orange clothing. Ye Gods, you can't make stuff like this up.

Sunday 21 March 2004

A Slice of Canberra

I don't treat this blog as a Diary. Perhaps there are people who are interested in my daily life, but the Blog's "mission statement" is "Intermittent postings from Canberra, Australia on Software Development, Space, Politics, and Interesting URLs. And of course, Brains...".

So file this one under "Canberra, Australia".

Today we attended a Church fete.

The denomination was Presbyterian, not that that matters very much: my wife and son are Catholic, and I'm Agnostic with a tendency to commit Buddhism.

The Canberra City Pipes and Drums played "leaving Rhu Vaternish", "Amazing Grace", "Waltzing Matilda", "Scottish Soldier" and "Bound for South Australia" - then did some Jazz Improvisation on "A Londonderry Air" and various Irish jigs and reels.

Food consumed by us included Vietnamese Spring Rolls, Szechuan Spring Rolls, Mango and Strawberry/Apple Ice Cream, Hot Dogs, Chocolate Milkshakes, Steak Sandwiches, and Singapore Noodles (with Indonesian chilli Ketjap and Japanese Shoyu).

We managed to pick up some great mixed-citrus marmalade, but missed out on the Dundee cake.

Andrew had a great time at the 9-hole Novelty Golf green, playing several rounds. He spent too long there, the Jumping Castle was packed away before he got to it. Oh well, next year.

Despite it being late March, and thus into Autumn, it was a fine, sunny day. A bit too sunny, every child was wearing a hat due to UV from the depleted Ozone layer. Andrew's was a Soviet-pattern tropical Giggle Hat I picked up from a Russki deserter in Bremen, Germany around 1990, made in Tashkent.

That's a slice of life in March 2004, here in Australia. I suppose some would call it "Multiculturalism", but to us it's just... normal. The way we are.

Saturday 20 March 2004

Missed by that much...

From New Scientist via A Voyage to Arcturus :
An asteroid the size of a small office building will make the closest approach ever recorded to the Earth on Thursday evening

Discovered just two days ago by an automated telescope scanning the sky for near-Earth objects, asteroid 2004 FH will miss the planet by a mere 40,000 kilometres, just over a tenth of the distance to the Moon.
At roughly 30 metres in size, 2004 FH is too small to cause widespread damage should it hit the Earth. It would be more likely explode in the air, releasing about a megaton of energy. However, that energy should dissipate harmlessly if the blast is high enough above the surface.
Or, if not, it's the equivalent of one of the largest H-bombs in existence today (though bigger ones have been in service in the past).

Jay Manifold does a few back-of-the-envelope calculations on his blog, and gets the answer of 1.1 Megatonnes assuming a specific gravity of 2. If it's Nickel-Iron (as many meteors are) then it's more like 10. In either case, you wouldn't want one to come down in your vicinity.

Does anyone else think that being able to detect these things a bit earlier than 2 days before they're in the neighbourhood might be a good idea?

Friday 19 March 2004

A.E.Brain - a short Eulogy

No, not for me. Nor for my son Andrew (thank God!). For my Uncle, Dr Alfred E. Brain, who I've just got the word died on the 13th, a few days before my birthday.

I'll always remember him as the provider of California Redwood play-blocks, when I was about Andrew's age. And a "Think-A-Dot" toy at age 7 or so, that first got me interested in computing. I couldn't fathom it out at the time, but 10 years later (and half a world away), when I was introduced to Flip-Flops and simple Arithmetic Logic Units at University, I instantly picked up the concepts.

ShakeyBut he was no mere provider of goodies from a distance. Though as he lived in Santa Cruz, California, while I was in Berkshire, England, we didn't get to see him much. In the 60's, he was busy at Stanford Research International, working on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

Before then, he'd been working on Perceptrons, in particular MINOS I, widely regarded as the first successful attempt at rudimentary AI (Artificial Intelligence).

This work was discontinued almost entirely due to one very influential paper by Marvin Minsky (one of the Gods of Computer Science) in 1969, which showed that single-layer Perceptrons had fundamental limitations. Alas, Minsky didn't realise that multi-layer Perceptrons - Neural Nets - had no such limitations. The funding dried up, and it wasn't until the 90's that research on Neural Nets resumed, research that continues today. In fact, virtually all AI is now done using Neural Nets. We lost 20 years.

I can't give many details about my Uncle's work in the 40's and 50's, as he couldn't talk about it. During World War II, he was engaged in Electronic Warfare research and development at the University of Manchester, and that work's still classified. It may have been on the Monika tail-warning radar, but given his later career, was more probably work on ULTRA. After the war, he emigrated to the USA, and was involved in research on automated recognition of interesting things on recon photographs, which led to his work on Perceptrons. The US had a number of recon programs before the U-2 AQUATONE spyplane, usually involving balloon-borne cameras ( e.g. the WS-119L GENETRIX ) that took literally millions of metres of film over semi-random areas of the USSR. To manually go through every frame, looking for items of interest was infeasible, it had to be automated.

As an aside, the earlier Project MOGUL caused the most famous UFO incident ever recorded - the "Roswell Flying Saucer Crash". Though there's no convincing some people.

In the 70's, Uncle Ted ( as I knew him ) was still working on visual recognition, co-authoring a famous paper on the subject with Nizam and Duda ( Nizam77). And in the 80's, after retiring at 65 ( a near-fatal heart attack followed by a triple bypass encouraged him to slow down a bit), he returned to England and married his childhood sweetheart!

Like me, he had a few problems due to his name, and field of study. At least one article was rejected by the Scientific American as they thought a paper on An Electronic Brain by A.E.Brain was a hoax...

I last saw him in 1990 - when he met Carmel for the first time. His house in Market Raizen was full of clocks, as he'd got more than a passing interest in Horology. (He was moderately well known known in Horological circles for some papers on the history of the Waltham company). Also there was an electronic dog (which barked when anyone went near the front door), and his garden was filled with electronic Mole-Scarers.

His mind was as sharp as ever to the last, but his body let him down. Increasingly frail over the last few years, he still managed to write the odd article or two, the last one on Global Warming. Had his body not let him down, no doubt he would be blogging. But it was not to be.

If there is anything to this Afterlife and Religious bit, then no doubt he and my dad (his younger brother) are out there "Drowning Worms" or whatever the celestial equivalent is. Though I rather think they might be giving the Almighty a bit of a hand in the Engineering of the Universe.

In any event, Andrew's going to hear a lot more about this other A.E.Brain. He could do a lot worse than to be like him.

Thursday 18 March 2004

Another Cultural Treasure

A synoptic guide to every Doctor Who episode.

Pandora's Box

I recently found out that some of my words are being immortalised in the US Library of Congress Minerva Web Archive. Both the Iraq page and the Global War on Terror page at The Command Post have been deemed by God-knows-who as being of sufficient cultural and historical significance to be worth keeping. I contribute in a small way to both, so my words have perforce been included.

That led me to thinking about Australia's equivalent: the Pandora archive run by the National Library of Australia. I wondered what the heck they kept, and how was it decided what was worth keeping.

So I did a search on "Iraq & Saddam". The results, frankly, astonished me. A result worthy of the Misistry of Truth.

Of the 4638 hits, I reviewed the first 1000. Of these, approximately 300+ were political anyalysis and commentary. Of that 300+, I found 2 that were neutral, neither pro- nor anti- war, but dispassionate analysis of alternatives. The rest were all anti-Bush, anti-War, anti-American.

I'm willing to admit that there are plausible arguments against the Iraq War. But if future Historians primary sources are so selectively filtered, leaving the inescapable impression that there was absolutely no pro-War support whatsoever... then that's re-writing history by omission. Whether the war was right or wrong is arguable. Or arguably arguable. That editorial articles exist in support of it is not a matter of opinion, but of fact.

But all the National Library has kept in the way of Op-Eds on the subject are issue after issue of the World Socialist Web Site ( Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International ), and carefully selected Anti-Bush articles from the notoriously anti-War Sydney Morning Herald and its companion paper, The Age. Margot Kingston and Mike Carlton, yes. Miranda Devine, Mark Steyn or Tim Blair, no.

Not quite true : there's the occasional article from other sources, but they all have the same, relentless theme. (Interestingly, that last article has an Ad saying "Are you the next Phillip Adams?", advertising for columnists. As revealing as if a paper in the 30's asked "Are you the next Josef Goebbels?" - though that's highly unfair to him). (And yes, that last sentence was deliberately ambiguous, I never let fairness interfere with a pithy witicism.)

I have no complaints about the selection of news stories. When it comes to selections of straight reports, there appears to be no trace of significant bias. They even include an article from the Review, a publication of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). Much of the rest is from the ABC, which on straight news reporting is pretty good.

But warbloggers and anti-Saddam editors are unpeople. Vapourised. There's DoubleplusGoodThink only.

Now I've got to figure out what to do about it. How to convince the hardworking and dedicated professionals at the National Library that there's a problem, without sounding like some sort of Crank with a political Axe to grind. It would be a lot easier if I disagreed with the tenor of the missing bits. And no, I'm not being sarcastic, the people at the National Library do an excellent job given their financial constraints, and try their hardest to be objective. I've met some of them in the course of my profession. Destroyers, Submarines, Satellites, Helicopters, Laser Eye Surgery, Health Care Systems, Libraries ... all grist to the Software Engtineer's mill. As Robert Heinlein said, "Specilaisation is for Insects".

Wednesday 17 March 2004

The Prediction Market

Jim Dunnigan's Strategy Page is probably the best single source on the Internet for Miscellaneous Military Matters. In many ways, it's the Military equivalent of Aviation Week and Space Technology ( known by the cognoscenti and literati as Aviation Leak).

It's now running (in Beta Test until the beginning of May) a Prediction market. Essentially, you can bet on certain events happening, like Bush being re-elected ( currently 20 Pro, 55 Con ), by buying shares, either pro- or con-. Note that it's in Beta Test, with Test data. Some of which is obviously bogus, as test data usually is.

A swift digression: it's customary to have test data in computer systems being of the right format ( form) but with obviously incorrect values. For example, a client named Michael Mouse, another named Donald Duck, both living in 221B Baker Street, Gotham City, Trantor. Databases are often filled during development with names like Anne O'Namus, Sue Donim, Norm D. Ploom, Clarke Kent, James T Kirk ( of 1701 Enterprise Street), and so on.

The reason for this is simple: you want to make absolutely, positively sure that all test data has been flushed from the system before it goes into operation ( goes "live" ). Should some accidentally remain ( which happens, take my word for it ), you really want to detect the problem as soon as possible. I've acted as an Expert Witness in one case where the data hadn't been flushed, and the data wasn't obviously fake. This caused massive problems in the accounts system, legal obligations to pay GST ( VAT by any other name ) for fictitious purchases, and a mess in general. Live data from and English site had been used to test one in Australia, and I happened to recognise the area codes of the phone numbers as being of the Newbury, Berkshire area, near where I was born. A few checks on the UK Yellow Pages showed that the Company names matched those of firms in that area of the UK, and that no fraud was being perpetrated, merely incompetence on the part of the system's maker.

Hence my preference for "Consolidated Widget Corporation", "Interstellar Master Traders", "Amalgamated Conglobulations Incorporated", "Bourke and Hare Funeral Directors" , "Elizabeth Borden Axes" and other such company names in test data. They stick out like the proverbial sore thumbs if seen on a General Ledger report.

Tuesday 16 March 2004

Bob Zangas

I've just got the word that Bob Zangas, a blogger in Iraq, was killed in an ambush on Wednesday.

Lord Macaulay, in "Horatius at the Bridge" wrote:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late;
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods?
Bob Zangas found a better way : he died while helping to heal a nation ravaged and raped by an odious tyranny.

Much that's what is written on the Net is being archived, here and there. It will be a fertile field for historians and Internet Archaelogists in the future, trying to figure out exactly how people lived, and what they thought, in the days around the turn of the Millenium. (And if any of them are reading this fragment from 2004, Hi There!)

Bob Zangas' blog may well live through the ages, a monument to people who put their lives on the line, "just trying to help out". If you're going to die eventually - which at our current level of technology is still the case with everyone - then I can think of no, not better, but more meaningful way of going about it. I just wish he had lived a bit longer, and been able to see his work to a successful conclusion. My sympathies to his family.

Monday 15 March 2004

Spanish Influenza

It's difficuilt trying to discuss dispassionately the consequences of the Madrid Bombings. Over 200 people have died so far, and over a thousand more have been injured, some merely cut and bruised, others maimed, missing limbs or eyes.

The recent Spanish Election results cast a malign influence on the world. Yet I cannot for the life of me see how this could have been avoided. Lets see how this unhappy state of affairs came about...

In the weeks before the Madrid Massacre, a number of ETA terrorists were caught red-handed transporting explosives for an operation in Madrid.

On February 11th, 2 ETA members were caught by the French trying to smuggle explosives across the border.

On February 29, an ETA van loaded with half a tonne of explosives was detected, and the ETA attack foiled.

Given these facts, the initial Spanish Government reaction - "it's got to be ETA" - is perfectly logical, and reasonable. It may even be correct, though the evidence against that is becoming more and more conclusive every day.

The Spanish Government had been under a lot of pressure from the opposition over the last year, the Spanish joining in the "Coalition of the Willing" was unpopular with the majority of the Spanish electorate. For the Government to blame Al Qaeda could leave them open to charges that Spain had been made a target, that it was somehow "their fault". Worse, it would give the Socialists the opportunity to say the Government was scaremongering, trying to say a Vote for the Socialists was a vote for Al Qaeda, a ploy that the voters would see through instantly, and vote accordingly. Since all the scanty evidence pointed to ETA anyway, no point in opening up a can of worms. They thought.

But evidence - much of it flimsy and, frankly, obviously bogus (like the claim by the same Islamofascist group that said they were responsible for the NE American power blackouts) was released that backed the Al Qaeda theory. Shortly thereafter, some genuine credible evidence was found, culminating in the arrest of 5 suspects with Al Qaeda connections.

The Government lost credibility. They were accused of a whitewash, attempting to use the Madrid Massacres for sordid party political purposes, and the voters expressed their contempt at the ballot box. Had they said from the first that it was Al qaeda (against the evidence) then the charge may have had some justice.

Of course had the government really been attempting a whitewash, it's difficult to believe the arrests wouldn't have been timed for after the election. Evidence about exactly what explosives and detonators were used, and what it probably meant (Spanish explosives, but detonators not used by ETA before, Chemically similar to typical ETA bombs, but in a compressed form they hadn't used before) was released as soon as it was available. But this just confused the situation, it's still not clear exactly whodunnit. We'll find out in the coming weeks and months. It's not impossible that the Socialist government will eventually say "Whada ya know, it actually was ETA after all, with Al Qaeda help". Or possibly Al Qaeda, with ETA help. Never mind, too late now to change the election result.

The problem is that the Socialist government is committed to removing Spanish troops from Iraq. Withdrawing from the Coalition. For the reasons above, the Spanish voters do not appear to me at least to have been cowed into acceeding to Al Qaeda's demands. Yet most blogs write as if they were, and there's not a shred of doubt that Al Qaeda will see this as a great victory, and (and this is the important bit) try to repeat their success elsewhere.

Australia has an election at the end of this year.


Still, if not us, someone else. We're all in this together.

UPDATE : I was going to add a bit more, but Silent Running said exactly what I was going to post, and did it better than I could anyway. Please go read "Lacrimosa".

Thursday 11 March 2004

The Last Wave

North HeadThere's something peculiar about the geology around Sydney. The surface geology, that is. There's evidence that not so long ago, North Head (the northernmost part of the entrance to Sydney Harbour - see picture to right) was scoured clean by a monster wave. And there's similar evidence up and down the coast round Sydney. I found some myself after a particularly bad storm, pulverised puddingstone and other volcanic rock that had been transported from a known site at the water's edge, taken inland, and buried for a few hundred years. (In was studying geology at High School at the time).
There are Aboriginal artworks inland from the Sydney region that could be interpreted as recordings of an awesome tsunami, and by comparing dates with known records of the arrivals of European ships, it looks like it happened less than 1,000 years ago. There's also evidence that the Ku-Ring-Gai and other Sydney area Aboriginal tribes were relative latecomers to the scene.
Considering that over 4 million people live in the Cumberland Basin ( the geologiocal area that Sydney's on), a repetition would be a bit of a worry. One of the most likely hypotheses to explain what may have occurred was a sub-surface massive landslip of cubic kilometres of rock from the continental shelf and into the ocean depths. Certainly there's evidence to show that this happens periodically.
But we may now have found the Smoking Gun. From Science News, via A Voyage To Arcturus :
Scientists may have discovered the impact site of one big space rock that smacked into the South Pacific just a few hundred years ago. In eastern Australia, researchers have found jumbled deposits of rocks more than 130 m above sea level that they propose were left by a tsunami. That debris has been dated to about A.D. 1500—a date that matches when the Maori people inexplicably moved away from some areas of New Zealand's coast, says Stephen F. Pekar, a sedimentologist at Queens College in New York. On New Zealand's Stewart Island, two sites sport possible tsunami deposits at elevations of 150 m and 220 m, respectively.

The source locations and heights of waves that could have lofted materials to those elevations steered the search for the impact's ground zero to beneath the sea southwest of New Zealand, says Pekar. Sure enough, he and his colleagues have discovered a crater there that's about 20 km wide and about 150 m deep. Samples of sediment taken from the seafloor southeast of the crater, but not those obtained elsewhere around the crater, contain small mineral globules called tektites, one hallmark of an extraterrestrial impact. That pattern suggests that an object may have struck from the northwest—a path that would have taken the blazing bolide over southeastern Australia, where aboriginal legends mention just such a fireball.

The rock that created tsunamis off New Zealand 500 years ago may have been around 1 km across, the researchers say.
That would fit. A wave 500 ft high, big enough to wash inland till it reached the nearest mountain range, 30 miles inland, round about 1477.

The title of the post comes from a particularly Weird 1977 Peter Weir film, whose final scene shows just such a wave approaching Sydney.

Calling Professor Van Helsing

Seen over on Silent Running, a treat for afficionados of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A section of script with a sting in its tale. And a problem we all have a stake in solving.

Wednesday 10 March 2004

Coca-Cola written backwards

Hidden Message in Coca ColaThanks to Little Green Footballs (LGF to it's friends - and enemies), here's a site that's a sight. I feel slightly ashamed being so amused by it, though I guess that's human nature. After all, in the 18th century, guided tours of the Lunatic Asylum at Bedlam were conducted. The people involved are probably more dangerous than most of the Criminally Insane too.

A quick traipse around the site reveals it's no hoax, parody or spoof. A lot of work went into this. It's even quite useful, it contains a canonical copy of Henry Ford's loathsome anti-semitic tracts that appeared in the Dearborne Independent.

It's Islamic - or rather, Islamist. But Wahhabi only, thanks very much. To quote one page :
Shiaism (The Rafidah) and Islam are indeed different religions. This sect has developed into what we now know as the Shia whose beliefs and thoughts are repugnant beyond belief.
As for the Druze :
When the opportunity arises, when they become stronger and find supporters among the ruling classes, they show their true colours and proclaim their real beliefs and aims, and they start to promote evil and corruption, and try to destroy religious teachings, sound beliefs and morals.
The website's mission :
This website is regularly updated by to reflect the current happenings in the Ummah. It covers a wide variety of topics from clearing misconceptions about Islaam to details on Deviant sects in the Religion.
Peculiarly enough, it's based in Hindu India - which rather makes some of the articles about how oppressed Islam is in India a bit of an oxymoron.

But in elucidating the philosophies of Hammas (with their fantasies about the conspiracies of the Lions Club and Rotarians) and other radical Islamist organisations (not always approvingly), it's full of things queer as a Clockwork Orange, and as psychotic as Coca-Cola written backwards. And (pardon the pun) just as Alarming and Amusing.

Tuesday 9 March 2004

A Very Different Arab Country

Seen on a comment on Israellycool :
Bahrain has been and will continue to be a religious tolerant country. For instance the Jews do have their own Synagogue, the varioua sects of Christianity have their own churches and even a couple of cathedrals, and the hindus have their temples.

More important than the religious aspect however, Bahrain has the only Jewish MP in our parliament as well as the only lady Christian MP. This is the Bahraini parliament I'm talking about. This is a first in the Gulf. So you will see that we live quite happily together. To us, it is being a Bahraini first and its completely up to you to worship whichever god you choose.
From Mahmood Al-Yousif, whose blog is worth a look in its own right.

Bahrain must be a very different place - think about it, here's an Arab blogger commenting on a post on a site called "Israellycool". Talking about the composition of a Parliament. An Arab Parliament. With a Jew in it. And a Woman. You know, maybe there's a bit of hope for this sad old world after all. Onya Mahmood.

Tall Tales But True

This one's very definitely for the Software Geeks out there, though normal human beings may also appreciate it.

Thanks to Senor G., a sometime contributor to it, here's the Shark Tank. Tall Tales But True in Information Technology.

...and many more. Muchas Gracias, Senor G.

Logan's Run Damnation Alley Reprised

The original book (before the godawful movie) was about the last of the Hell's Angels being coerced into making a transcontinental motorcycle run through the radioactive hell that was the centre of the USA, to carry medical supplies to counteract an epidemic.

Thanks to The Evil Pundit of Doom, there's a pictorial account of a motorcycle trip through "The Death Zone" around Chernobyl. Basically, Russian Nuclear Physicist's Beautiful Daughter takes her humongously powerful Kawasaki 1100cc bike on a tour of the less dangerous parts (and watches her dosimeter with great care).

I was astounded at the levels of Radiation still there, after nearly 20 years. Normal background count at sea level is about 0.2 milliRoentgens/hour, but in mountainous regions with lots of granite can easily be 2 or more mR/Hr. When flying on a 747, you'd typically get 4-8 mR/Hr, and a single chest X-ray would give you a minimum of 10 mR, often 30 mR.

The maximum permitted dose for industrial workers is about 0.6 mR/hr of uninterrupted exposure, but a few weeks of 10 mR/hr or even higher is totally safe. There's a J-curve effect: too little radiation is as bad for you as too much, when you're talking about really, really low levels. 5 Roentgens/year is the industrial limit, but below 25 Roentgens ( 3 mR/Hr, 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year) there's no detectable effect on the body. (I'm simplifying : not all Roentgens are created equal - the proper measurement is the Rem, which can correspond to anything from 0.5 to 20 Roentgens IIRC, depending on the type of radiation and part of the body is exposed).

But in Kiev, the count is about 30 mR/Hr, totally safe for a couple of days or even a week or two. A nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there. Yet people are doing. Near Chernobyl itself, in the "Death Zone", it's more like 90 in the middle of the road, 180 at the edge, and 300 in the fields.

The site also shows pictures of vast quantities of military equipment, literally too hot to handle. Just passing by it caused her dosimeter to scream a warning. Inside abandoned houses, where the rains haven't washed away the dust, there's hot-spots in the hundreds of mR/hr. And this is after 18 years.

These numbers indicate to me that not only will there be a greatly increased risk of cancer to everyone in the area, but the people who actually flew the helicopters now rusting in the fields must have received a very, very high dose indeed. Quite a number must have died within months. Casualties must be in the 10's of thousands by now, far worse than my previous reading had indicated.

(Note : The site is temporarily down, will be back in May, darnit).

Thanks to reader Clive for the correction of the title.

Friday 5 March 2004

Make Your Own Bayeux Tapestry

...or something a bit less ambitious. Today's Interesting URL : The Historical Tale Construction Set (Flash required).
Bayeux Burger King

Kerry on Defence - A Pictorial Record

Normally I only post about Australian political items. But sometimes US politics directly affects us here.

Here is a list of major US military equipment items used on land in the Iraq war. It covers all the "big ticket" items, such as armoured vehicles, and combat aircraft, but not trucks, transport aircraft or bootlaces.
M1A2 Main Battle Tank. Every tank used by the US in Iraq was an M1 variant.
M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle - The US Army's primary armoured infantry carrier, which along with its externally identical cousin, the M3, saw even more service than the M1 tank.
AAV7 - The amphibious vehicle used by the US Marine Corps instead of the M2 Bradley. Much bigger, but thinner armour and less well armed.
M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier- Dating back to the Vietnam War, the M113 is now mainly used in rear support areas, as command, communications and logistics vehicles. It has many different variants, but has much thinner amour than an M2, and no main gun.
M88 Armoured Recovery Vehicle - The "tank" that brought Saddam down. Essentially just an armoured crane, used for recovering disabled vehicles, and based on a chassis nearly 50 years old (!)
F-15 Eagle The mainstay anti-aircraft fighter of the USAF. The F-15E Strike Eagle ground-attack variant did much of the most effective bombing in Iraq too.
F-16 Fighting Falcon A lighter, less-capable aircraft than the F-15, most useful when supported by more capable aircraft.
F-18 Hornet In many ways, the Naval equivalent of the F-16.
F-14 Tomcat The US Navy's F-15 equivalent, together with the F-14D "Bombcat".
A-10 Thunderbolt II Old, Ugly, Armoured, and Effective (as long as there's not much in the way of enemy fighters around)
AV-8B Harrier This unique Vertical-Take-Off-and Landing (VTOL) aircraft has proven once again that its quick-reaction when operating from forward airstrips makes it invaluable.
B-52 Superfortress Still soldiering on, moving 20+ tonnes of bombs around, just like earlier versions did in Vietnam. With Smart Bombs, much more effective, and less indiscriminate. But even the very youngest models are far older than the pilots who fly them.
B-1B Lancer The B-52 would be useless against any fighter opposition: the B-1 is much more survivable. It may not be able to hide, but being supersonic, it can run.
B-2 Spirit The B-2 is hideously expensive, but nigh invulnerable to enemy defences. It can't run, but it can hide very effectively.
F-117A Nighthawk The F-117 is like the B-2. Unlike the B-2, it's range is short, and it carries one or two bombs, not dozens.
Patriot 2 The only anti-aircraft missile used in combat to shoot down ballistic missiles. It repeatedly proved its worth protecting rear areas.
Tomahawk The "Cruise Missile", in its air- and sea-launched variants used with such great effect to supress enemy defences.
AH-64 Apache The main attack helicopter of the US Army.
AH-1 Cobra Based on a design that originally saw service 40 years ago, still in service with the US Marines.

Now here's the ones that Senator Kerry wouild have cancelled back in 1984 without replacing them.
Note:Tomahawk cut to less than 10% of current total production, not cancelled entirely.

Here's the "Black Projects" he didn't know existed.

When he did find out, here's his reaction ( quoted by Mark Steyn ) :
BRIAN WILSON: Let's shift just a moment to the talk around town and the hot topic is a package of reforms to help solve the problems in our urban areas, Los Angeles primarily among them... But the question comes, where do we find the money? I mean, even the programs they're talking about -- we're talking 2, 3, 3.5 billion dollars and these are just tough times. Where do we get that money?

SENATOR KERRY: These are not such tough times that we do not have that money available now... The truth is the B-2 bomber is a source of funding with respect to this kind of priority.

Fox Morning News, May 14th 1992
That's all military projects were to Senator Kerry in 1992, "sources of funding" to be plundered. Some of the programmes were wastes of money, like the DIVADS system. But it mattered not whether the programme was good or bad, what mattered was that it represented Dollars that could be better thrown into the bottomless pit that is Social Welfare.

Here's what's left :
It's no exaggeration to say that had Senator Kerry been successful with his programme of massive defence cuts, that the US Army of 2001 would have nothing but Vietnam-era or older equipment (and less of that), with the Marines and Air Force in little better state. No tanks. No modern armoured vehicles of any kind. No missiles to shoot down the enemy aircraft that wouldn't have had to avoid the non-existent USAF fighters. Neither the Liberation of Iraq nor the Liberation of Kuwait could have happened without friendly losses in the tens of thousands.

According to the Boston Globe, (and repeated elsewhere) Senator Kerry also wanted to cut the F-16 as well, but until I get an original source on this, I'll give him a pass. It could easily be based on mistaking his proposed cutting of the F-14 and F-15.

Also from the same article, is evidence of Kerry's 20/20 hindsight:
In retrospect, Kerry said some of his positions in those days were "ill-advised, and I think some of them are stupid in the context of the world we find ourselves in right now and the things that I've learned since then."
"I mean, you learn as you go in life," said Kerry. He characterized as "pretty responsible" his subsequent Senate voting record on defense.
Good words. Everyone makes mistakes. Perhaps not so consistently, but if he's learned from them, that's good. But call me cynical, just to check, let's look at the record, as they say in the Classics. Over, say the last 10 years, not 20.

In 1995, Voted To Freeze Defense Spending For 7 Years, Slashing Over $34 Billion From Defense. Only 27 other Senators voted with Kerry.

In 1996, Introduced Bill To Slash Defense Department Funding By $6.5 Billion. Kerry's bill had no co-sponsors and never came to a floor vote. (S. 1580, Introduced 2/29/96;

Fiscal 1996 Budget Resolution : Defense Freeze. "Harkin, D-Iowa, amendment to freeze defense spending for the next seven years and transfer the $34.8 billion in savings to education and job training." (S. Con. Res. 13, CQ Vote #181: Rejected 28-71: R 2-51; D 26-20, 5/24/95, Kerry Voted Yea)
No sign of anything learnt there. Well, what about the lamentable (but probably unavoidable) Intelligence Failure about Al Qaeda, pre-9/11?
1994: Proposed Bill To Gut $1 Billion From Intelligence And Freeze Spending For Two Major Intelligence Programs. Kerry proposed a bill cutting $1 billion from the budgets of the National Foreign Intelligence Program and from Tactical Intelligence, and freezing their budgets. The bill did not make it to a vote, but the language was later submitted (and defeated : see below) as S. Amdt. 1452 to H.R. 3759. (S. 1826, Introduced 2/3/94)

1995: Voted To Slash FBI Funding By $80 Million. (H.R. 2076, CQ Vote #480: Adopted 49-41: R 9-40; D 40-1, 9/29/95, Kerry Voted Yea)

1995: Proposed Bill Cutting $1.5 Billion From Intelligence Budget. Kerry introduced a bill that would "reduce the Intelligence budget by $300 million in each of fiscal years 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000." There were no cosponsors of Kerry's bill, which never made it to the floor for a vote. (S. 1290, Introduced 9/29/95)

1997: Kerry Questioned Growth Of Intelligence Community After Cold War. "Now that that [Cold War] struggle is over, why is it that our vast intelligence apparatus continues to grow even as Government resources for new and essential priorities fall far short of what is necessary?" (Senator John Kerry Agreeing That Critic's Concerns Be Addressed, Congressional Record, 5/1/97, p. S3891)
When His Bill Stalled In Committee, Kerry Proposed $1 Billion Cut As Amendment Instead. Kerry proposed cutting $1 billion from the National Foreign Intelligence Program and Tactical Intelligence budgets, and freezing their budgets. The amendment was defeated, with even Graham, Lieberman and Braun voting against Kerry. (Amdt. To H.R. 3759, CQ Vote #39: Rejected 20-75: R 3-37; D 17-38, 2/10/94, Kerry Voted Yea; Graham, Lieberman And Braun Voted Nay)
Here's Kerry's 20/20 hindsight again:
12 Days After 9/11: Kerry Questioned Quality Of Intelligence. "And the tragedy is, at the moment, that the single most important weapon for the United States of America is intelligence. And we are weakest, frankly, in that particular area. So it's going to take us time to be able to build up here to do this properly." (CBS's "Face The Nation" 9/23/01)
It would be unkind as well as unjust to blame Senator Kerry overmuch for 9/11, and the other attacks on the USS Cole, the previous attack on the WTC, the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut..... But his propensity to channel any and all military or intelligence spending into "inner-city renewal" did nothing whatsoever to prevent a rather larger-scale inner-city redevelopment, the one at the WTC site. As a war-time President, he'd be the equal of such luminaries as Neville Chamberlain, or even Leon Blum.

Wednesday 3 March 2004

Tuesday 2 March 2004

Bar(code) Humbug!

EAN barcode formatFor your edification and amusement, a site that enables you to Barcode Yourself.

At least, using a standard US-pattern 12-digit Universal Product Code barcode ( UPC-A). The rest of the world uses a 13-digit version, the European Article Numbering (EAN) code. There are 8-digit versions of both too, and the EAN often has a 5-digit extension, just to complicate matters. With the extension, the barcode can express an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) or equivalent for other articles.

The US and Canada will be gradually switching over to EAN over the next few years, so alert readers in North America might want to check to see how the changeover's going : 12 digits = old, 13 = new.

The Barcode Art site has other interesting things in it apart from the "Barcode Yourself" bit. There's a particularly neat Barcode Clock that's freely downloadable. But by far the most fascinating part of the site is the gallery of barcode portraits. It was a Revelation.

Monday 1 March 2004

Class Struggle - The Game(s)

Seen first on Pathetic Earthlings, this series of on-line games from the AFL-CIO is both amusing and thought-provoking. Though as befits propaganda-games, they're as subtle as a meat-axe.

They beat the old Avalon Hill boardgame, anyway (yes, I have a copy). Though how Bertell Oliman got a mainstream games publisher to produce an undisguised Marxist propaganda-piece as a game is an interesting story in it's own right. It was the 70's, I guess you had to be there.

Personally, I think a better simulation of how the world actually works is Steve Jackson's Illuminati game. Although filled with very, very tongue-in-cheek humour, there's more than a grain of truth in this parody of Conspiracy Theories. When it comes to International Affairs, we see through a Glass, Darkly.

In the Moog

Although it's pronounced to rhyme with "Rogue". Anyway, a little download for windows machines that will give you your very own synthesised synthesiser, complete with dials, knobs, switches, and patch cables.