Monday 30 August 2004

Curse You, Red Baron!

John F. Kerry building a Fokker Triplane after his electoral defeat in 1972


For those who haven't been on the Internet long, there is a long, established tradition of considering users of America On Line (AOL) to be, shall we say, ot-nay oo-tay ight-bray.
AOL became popular by mailing to all and sundry a FREE CD with 60 DAYS of free Internet connection. Or at least, they used to. I still have about ten such CDs in use as coasters.
Anyway, this CD was so easy to use, that anyone with an IQ only slightly inferior to a pithed frog could go on-line. And so many whose IQs were only slightly inferior to that of a pithed frog did. Unfortunately, getting an AOL service cancelled before you started paying for it was something rather harder than escaping from Colditz wearing a bright orange jumpsuit and carrying a grand piano.

This is the result.

Useful Tips

Tricks of the Trade. An example:

If you have to change a light bulb where the glass is broken, you can press a potato into the metal base to unscrew the remains of the bulb from the fixture.
From Utterly Boring.

Attack of the Giant Miraculous Spiders

Just go read The Command Post.

Sunday 29 August 2004

Pickled Cucumber

A Buddhist Tale from 898.

From Winds of Change, whose authors wrote
And so begins the priceless story of Wu-Ming The Cucumber Sage, offering us equal parts humour and insight. Do yourself a favour and read it.
A sentiment I completely agree with.

Friday 27 August 2004


No, not the computer game. Over at Voyage to Arcturus, there's an excellent article on Civilisations from a Galactic viewpoint, as part of an extended critical review of Dr Michio Kaku's article, The Physics of Extraterrestrial Civilisations. This follows on from a more recent post of his, about the Super Earth I mentioned in the previous article on this blog.

Though talking about Computer Games, the most educational game I've ever come across was Maxi's old one, SimEarth. Not only did it teach me some of the concepts involved in how Life evolved on this planet, and the deleterious effect Homo Sap. has had on BioDiversity, but it changed my world view. Provided we don't really, really screw up and remove all life down to a depth of kilometres, it's no big deal. If half the species on Earth die off, including our own, just wait a Billion years, or even a few bundred million, and you wouldn't know anything had happened.

Maxis hasn't developed the game any further - too educational, not enough game - and so it's Abandonware, and a legal download of it is available for the PC (Mac versions exist). It's so old that the .zip file is less than 1 Megabyte in size, it will fit on a single floppy. I've also just installed and tested in on my Win98 box, so it will probably work on even on XP, ME etc. There's even a good help article available online explaining some of the basic concepts.

But you really are playing God. From another help article about the game:
Scenario 5.8. Earth 2xxx- goal: get 25,000 biomes and 1,000 civilized people,
time limit: unlimited

This scenario seems easy just from looking at it, but is in fact very hard. You could open the present and flood the whole world, which means you'll start from scratch. However, the method I used is the opposite as it's hard to get the biomass up to 25,000 with so much water. Water based animals don't seem to count as much towards biomass as trees do. So, instead I allowed all of the water to boil over.
Letting the temperature rise is fairly simple in this one, as doing nothing will achieve this goal....
As Peter, Paul and Mary once said, Well, Well, Well...
Lord told Noah, Build him an ark,
Build it out of hickory bark.
Old ark a-movin', and the water start to climb,
God send a fire, not a flood next time.
Anyway, if you adjust your screen settings for the original 640x480 resolution, it's worthwhile having a go at it.

P.S. If you get to the 'nanotech' stage of civilisation, and you cause a Nuclear War, then you get a Terminator-type scenario, with killer robots taking over the world. That one was an Easter Egg put in by the programmers, and isn't in any of the documentation.

Too Many Planets

File this one under 'Space'.

At our current level of technology, we should have great difficulty finding planets obitting other stars. The Planets would have to be really, really close to the parent star, or just very close indeed and absolutely huge. This is because the only way we have of deducing the existence of a planet is either by the perturbation of the orbit of the star, or (recently) via occultation, the 'blink' that happens when the planet passes in front of the parent, dimming its light slightly.

Trouble is, we're finding not just a few, or dozens, but over a hundred now.

Consider one of the systems that's the closest in nature to ours :
In a discovery that has left one expert stunned, European astronomers have found one of the smallest planets known outside our solar system, a world about 14 times the mass of our own around a star much like the Sun.

It could be a rocky planet with a thin atmosphere, a sort of "super Earth," the researchers said today.

But this is no typical Earth. It completes its tight orbit in less than 10 days, compared to the 365 required for our year. Its daytime face would be scorched.

The planet's surface conditions aren't known, said Portuguese researcher Nuno Santos, who led the discovery. "However, we can expect it to be quite hot, given the proximity to the star."

Hot as in around 1,160 degrees Fahrenheit (900 Kelvin), Santos told

Still, the discovery is a significant advance in technology: No planet so small has ever been detected around a normal star. And the finding reveals a solar system more similar to our own than anything found so far.

The star is like our Sun and just 50 light-years away. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers). Most of the known extrasolar planets are hundreds or thousands of light-years distant.

The star, mu Arae, is visible under dark skies from the Southern Hemisphere. It harbors two other planets. One is Jupiter-sized and takes 650 days to make its annual trip around the star. The other planet, whose existence was confirmed with the help of the new observations, is farther out.

The three-planet setup, with one being rocky, is unique.

"It's much closer to our solar system than anything we've found so far," said Alan Boss, a planet-formation theorist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington.
So we have one 10x (actually 14x) Earth-sized planet orbitting closer than Mercury does to the Sun, a Giant like Neptune at about the orbit of Mars, and another Gas Giant 'somewhere further out'.

That's close to our own setup?

Not as such. We have some 4 small, even dwarf planets in the 'Goldilocks belt' (not too hot, not too cold, but just right), another far too close in, then a big gap to a huge Gas Giant (Jupiter), so big it's a great vacuum cleaner of infalling ice chunks from the Oort cloud. Much bigger, and it would be a star in its own right. After than, it's Gas Giants all the way out (except for the oddball Pluto-Charon double planet system).

Of the four planets that could be life-bearing, Venus has been hit by a runaway Greenhouse effect (and renews its surface in massive planet-wide eruptions every now and then), Mars is both a bit cold and far too small to keep much of an atmosphere in the long term, and only the Double-planet Earth-Moon system is placed optimally for carbon-based water-soluble lifeforms. And the Moon, like Mars but even more so, is too small to retain any atmosphere for long.

As I've blogged about before, I think the probability is that "Life As we Know It" is pretty common, indeed (pardon the pun) Universal. Anywhere Life can exist, it will.

But unlike some astronomers, I don't see the latest data about an increasing probability of planetary formation as being a cause for optimism that there's much useable real-estate out there. There are just too many systems with Jovians or Super-Jovians too close, it appears that our own Solar System may have been formed by quite a different mechanism from the rest of the crowd. Unique? With a sample size of One, it's hard to say. But certainly rare.

Again, with a sample size of One, the only method we know of forming intelligent life - at least as intelligent as, say, a Newt, or John Kerry, is by multi-cellular organisms. Mats of Bacteria, hardy and plentiful though they may be, do not cut the mustard. First you need non-cellular organisms (or single-celled ones with no nucleus), Prokaryotes, then single-celled ones formed by a symbiosis of different organisms working together, (Eukaryotes). These then become multicellular organisms, with increasing specialisation of functions by different cell groups, until we have things like John Kerry, with brain cells, bone cells, muscle cells and so on. Colonies of multicellular organisms become symbiotes too, for example people need 'intestinal flora', bacteria, inside their gut to aid digestion.

So we have Prokaryotes banding together and specialising inside Eurkaryotes, then Eurkaryotes banding together and specialising to form larger multicellular organisms, then those large multicellular organisms banding together and specialising into organisations, such as the USA, or Microsoft, or the local football team. It's very Fractal, the smallest part contains the pattern for the growth of larger ones.

All of this (including the last part) requires Evolutionary pushes. When growing a computer system based on Genetic Algorithms (which relies on Evolution to produce the required characteristics of the final system), you can speed things up a lot by having periodic "mass extinctions", and having multiple habitats and niches which form and re-form, so only the most flexible systems survive.

Now a Double-planet system which is therefore tectonically active (ie it has volcanos and continental plates), is perfect for this. And, as mentioned previously, Jupiter vacuums up *most* of the infalling ice-mountains that would otherwise nearly sterilise the joint. So you get periodic mass-extinctions, but not so many as to render life itself extinct, or reset it to the Prokaryotic stage.

It could be that in order to get multi-cellular lifeforms within the 10-20 billion years available from planetary formation till the time the star novas, you need to hurry. It took about 4.5 billion years to get there on Earth, if I remember correctly, even with all the advantages we have.

Now from my reading of things, we have Too Many Planets out there. The configuration of the Solar System may be freakishly rare. That means that we're going to find nice, terraformable real-estate vanishingly uncommon. Worse, it may even mean that in a galaxy, with all its myriads of stars, there is only on average less than one technological civilisation in existence at a time. Possibly a lot less. Of course, to get from one end of the Galaxy to the other is going to take hundreds of thousands of years, assuming no-one invents FTL (Faster-Than-Light) travel. Which would be nice to have, but isn't essential. Keep to, say, 3% of Light Speed (rather than 80%) and Slower-Than-Light travel doesn't require masses of antimatter the size of Jupiter any more as fuel.

That means that we could be the 'Elder Race', the 'Ancients' that were the font of all wisdom and who gave Intelligent Life a nudge throughout the Galaxy.

Bloody Hell.

Kerry Gets a Roasting

Anyone who's been following closely the US Elections (and you should, they affect everyone in the world, not just the US) should by now be aware that the Democratic candidate, John F Kerry, is engaged in a war with most of the people who served in his unit in Vietnam, the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth.

In the course of this, we have been exposed to one of the most blatant, shameful and eye-gougingly obvious episodes of mass political hypocracy I've ever had the misfortune to encounter, stretching over 35 years.

Details of just the latest and most egregious example over at The Command Post. A quote:
It can, and has, been argued that Kerry’s inconsistent and changing rebuttals of the SwiftVet’s claims are purely the result of faulty memory on both sides. But I can see no argument against the mountain of evidence that the man is a blatant, serial, and accomplished Hypocrite. The latest Letter to Bush is the capstone of his long and strangely undistinguished Senatorial career.

Cynics (like myself) would say that that makes him the Consumate Politician, and is a reasonable qualification for becoming President of the USA. But Cynics like myself disqualify him from consideration, because of repeated violations of the 11th Commandment:

Thou Shalt Not Get Caught

There’s also a personal matter : I don’t like being treated as a Fool, by an absurdly arrogant man who obviously despises the Sheeple. Bush’s ‘Simple Texan Cowboy’ Act is difficult enough to swallow, but again, it’s about par for a wiley, even sly politician. But Kerry’s Faux-Patriotism is positively nauseating. And in time of war, risky too.
Like all Australians, my opinion of politicians of all stripes is abysmally low. Probably not low enough, but there you go. But Kerry's double-dealing is breathtaking, quite unique in modern times. Far worse is that he obviously expects to get away with treating the general populace as complete idiots.

Thursday 26 August 2004

Voluntary Symbiotes

First, my sincere thanks to all those who have sent me sympathies about Brandy. I've had both comments on the Blog, and personal e-mails, too many to mention individually (rivalling the number of Spam e-mails I get every day). Some from people who have also had recent canine losses in the family.

That got me to thinking, because there's still a Brandy-shaped hole in the house, I keep on looking for her while blogging, as she used to just quietly lie by my feet, sharing company, and getting the odd pat now and then.

The Mythical 'Man from Mars', observing the human species coolly and dispassionately, might well conclude that Dogs and Humans are Symbiotic. And I think they'd be right. Now humans have lots of Pets - often surrogate children in some respect, creatures we can love and who love us in return, often small bundles of Ferretty Fur who play to our delight. Cats are popular, but Cats are independant : Dogs have Masters, Cats have Staff.

But I think the nature of the relationship between Dogs and Humans is qualititatively different from that of most Pet-PetOwner ones. The love is unconditional. Sure, the Human is the Alpha Partner, the Leader of the Pack. But in the wild, pack members don't treat the leader with the absolute loyalty bordering on worship that Dogs do to humans. It's the result of Evolution, Dogs showing loyalty get that in return, otherwise they're just another meat animal, as Dogs have been treated in many societies.

It's no accident that Humans often hunt alongside, and in co-operation with, a canine pack, or individual dogs. And just as the Canine gets a buzz out of having a stick thrown to them, we get just as much pleasure out of doing the throwing.

Evolution has made us this way, it's a 2-way street. There's a survival advantage in having a Doggy member of the family. Even in modern society, having a dog on the premisses has kept us from being burgled, as many on our street have been over the years. As for the cost - well, one of the things that really upset me today was shopping for meat, and realising with a pang that there's no point getting a T-bone or a leg of lamb any more, there's no-one to enjoy it.

Ah me.

Of course there are plenty of people in the world whose recent loss is even more pronounced. Yet these people often are the readiest to send their condolences to me. There are times when I look at the Big Picture, at Darfur, at Auschwitz, and I dispair. But then someone comes and reminds me of the wellsprings of Good that reside in human hearts, and it restores my soul.

Tuesday 24 August 2004

In Memoriam

Brandy SnapBrandy Snap, born 1991, died 2004.

Unexpectedly, after a short illness.

A much-loved, affectionate and loyal dog. She'll be missed.

When the Man woke up he said, "What is Wild Dog doing here?" And the Woman said, "His name is not Wild Dog anymore, but the First Friend because he will be our friend for always and always and always."
Rudyard Kipling

Monday 23 August 2004

Strengthening the Good #1

The First Cab Off the Rank.
Here's the issue: a burning charitable need at this moment is relief for people affected by Hurricane Charley. And while I very much want to highlight a Charley micro-charity, the fact is that the need right now is macro - incredibly macro. Fundamental needs: housing ; water ; huge quantities of baby formula ; needs that are best met by macro charities such as the Red Cross, the Christian Contractors Association, and Salvation Army, and it's going to be this way for some time.

But I also think I've found something you can get behind and feel good about: The Gulf Coast Community Foundation Of Venice Hurricane Charley Disaster Relief Fund.
Why this one? Because they've promissed to donate on a 1-for-1 basis. Every dollar you donate, they add another one.

I suggest that before you go over to the main GCFV site, you visit the Stengthen The Good page first, to see a full justification of why this particular fund was chosen. It's your money, you should be sure it's not being wasted before donating. We get double the effect.

And whether you're donating or not, please consider liking to either this post, or the Strengthen The Good site, or even just e-mailing it around the office to let others have the opportunity to donate or not, as they see fit. Ta.

Sunday 22 August 2004

Linguistic Determinism, Sign Language, and Teeth

They were the most dangerous animals on the Planet. Their coastal heritage left them a smooth, almost hairless hide incredibly efficient at dissipating waste heat. They had the ability to remorselessly pursue their quarry at a relentless pace, regardless of the mid-day sun. Not quickly, but at a steady amble that could and did last for hours at a stretch. Binocular vision and a keen sense of smell made them the ultimate predator, for they hunted in packs, communicating silently to co-ordinate their attack. A Nightmare come true.

The estimable Norm of Normblog has an intriguing article about Linguistic Determinism.
In any case, it continues to perplex me that anyone at all does subscribe to the hypothesis of linguistic determinism. Unless one makes the hypothesis true in a merely tautological sense, so that we don't allow as counting for 'thought' anything which can't be formulated in words, it seems evident that there are both pre- and sub-linguistic forms of perception, awareness, consciousness and so forth. Think about how you know - exactly - where to place your hand in catching a ball; or, more to the point, how you discriminate between the elementary sounds of which spoken words are made up, so that you can tell what words are being uttered, and thereby gain access to language and the concepts which language makes available to you.
So I'm puzzled by those (linguists, postmodernists, discourse theorists, etc.) who argue that everything, for us, is through language. I spoke of this puzzlement once before here, in a more frivolous way than I'm doing now. Is there anyone out there who's properly versed in this area of philosophy (as I myself am not), and could help to clear up my puzzlement?
I share his puzzlement. If Linguistic Determinism is true, how come the word Aphasia exists?

Everyone now and then has had the experience of having a word "on the tip of their tongue". The concept is clearly defined within the mind, we're even consciously aware of it (unlike the ability to walk, or the exact muiscle movements required when driving a car), yet the word for it is (temporarily) misplaced, or rather, the hyperlink to the speech centre is lost.

People who have suffered Brain damage (as I have) can sometimes have rather greater than normal difficulty with this. In some extreme cases, the ability to speak is lost completely.

Jared Diamond's excellent book, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee" has a large section devoted to Linguistic Determinism, and the effect that the evolution of the Voicebox, and thus the Brain's Speech centre, had on our ability to think.

I had a discussion with Mr Diamond when he visited Canberra quite a few years ago. I pointed out the well-documented ability of Chimpanzees to "speak" and understand American Standard Sign Language, Ameslan. I also pointed out the various Battle Sign Languages taught in the military, and that we have a suspiciously easy time learning them. Or inventing them for new applications, even ones involving abstract concepts such as "dangerous". Our brains are hard-wired for the ability to communicate hunting signals silently, and even to convey abstract thoughts. Basically, Language came a long time before speech, thought-construct concepts before words as such. To find out when this happened in archealogical time, just look at a hominid's dentition: if it ate meat regularly, odds are it communicated.
As one of these Nightmarish creatures stood up to spook the prey, others lay in wait, then suddenly a dozen rocks thudded into their victim. Ribs splintered, breath bloodied, the quarry ran, but slower and slower as Homo Erectus implacably followed...
And people wonder why we have Wars...

Saturday 21 August 2004

It's Alan not Allen

Alan (not E) The BrainFrom the Seattle Post-Intelligencer :
The military has given Paul Allen's brain research project $1.8 million to incorporate into its overall mission of gene-mapping the mind some additional work on sleep deprivation.
The Allen institute's debut project, the Allen Brain Atlas, aims to map all of the active genes in the mammalian brain -- starting with the mouse brain.
Actually, my name's Alan Brain. I usually include the middle initial so I don't get taken for the Cartoon Character who also writes computer programs. And yes, I have had to produce my Driver's License several times in order to convince people I'm not having them on. I really feel for anyone whose name is, say, Michael Mouse. Now getting back to the serious bit...
"If we can learn more about sleep deprivation and performance, I think we're going to save lives." The Allen brain project, Nethercutt said, should provide sleep researchers with new insights into sleep, fatigue and mental performance under duress -- all areas of interest to the military.

Moron Saudi

And More on Saudi too. Little Green Footballs drew my attention to an article in "A journal titled "Al-Jundi Al-Muslim" (The Muslim Soldier), which is published by the Religious Affairs Department of the Saudi armed forces" (excerpts available from the Middle East Research Institute). Some quotes :
The majority of revolutions, coups d'etat, and wars which have occurred in the world [in the past], those that are occurring, and those that will occur, are almost entirely the handiwork of the Jews. They [the Jews] turned to [these methods] in order to implement the injunctions of the fabricated Torah, the Talmud, and the 'Protocols [of the Elders of Zion'], all of which command the destruction of all non-Jews in order to achieve their goal - namely, world domination.
World Jewry has established a shadow government run by 300 Satans who call themselves 'elders.' They always choose one man who is considered to be a king and to be the successor to King David and [King] Solomon. They do not reveal his name in public, and each time he dies they appoint another of the rabbis in his place.
The Jews caused the outbreak of World War I and World War II, after they deceived the English into believing that they would be the sole beneficiaries of the First World War. The wealthy Jews made fantastic profits, paid for by the blood of millions of Englishmen, Americans, French, etc.

The proof of this is to be found in the Jews' words themselves: the Romanian Jew Marcus Ravage, who said, 'We are behind all of your wars, and the first war [apparently meaning WWI] broke out in order to establish our domination over the world,' and the Jew Oscal Levy [sic; Oscar Levy] said: 'The Jews are at the root of capitalism and communism. We are the ones who invented the story of a 'chosen people' and we established ourselves as saviors of the world, and we are the ones who take pride in the fact that the Messiah will be from among us. Today we do nothing but disseminate corruption in the world; we obliterate and destroy the world. We are the ones who promised to lead you to the Garden of Eden and to happiness, but in fact we have led you to a new hell.
The Masonic, Crusader, nationalist propaganda produced in the Jewish factories of intrigue succeeded in sullying [the reputation of] Sultan Abd Al-Hamid II with all sorts of abominations. In addition, it succeeded in glorifying all of the pictures of bravery surrounding the Jew Mustafa Kemal, who represented the head of the Jewish snake, and caused it to bite deadly bites which brought on the destruction of the Islamic Caliphate.
Mustafa Kamel was Jewish, 300 Jews control the world, Jews caused every war ever, the only Nazi crap they missed out was the sacrifice of Muslim and Christian Children to provide blood for Matzoh eaten at Passover.

Now this sort of stuff appears on Loony websites all the time, along with claims that all politicians are actually disguised Lizard Aliens from Betelgeuse, etc etc. But this stuff is being purveyed by the Religious Affairs Department of the Saudi Armed Forces.

The last Armed Force that had Ideological Indoctrination like this was the SS. (I mean that quite literally, not figuratively.) Now much as I have been willing to give the Saudi government the benefit of the doubt before, there's something very deeply wrong here, and I don't think it's correctible without surgery. We ignore it at our peril. I no longer see the Saudi regime as the lesser of two evils, just another faction of the same one.

Oh yes, if you're interested in what Dr Oscar Levy actually said, and the context he said it in, it's available on-line. But facts have always been irrelevant to Propagandists.

Cruel and Unusual

When working with a bunch of Israelis over in Germany, I became aware that Israel and Australia shared a national passion : Barbecues.

The Red-Sea Pedestrians I worked with called the Noble Art of Barbecue their 'National Sport', and referred to numerous passages about 'Burnt Offerings' in the Old Testament/Torah to bolster their claim that, if they hadn't actually invented it, they've certainly got at least 3000 years of practice in it.

Hence the following outraged article from Arab News, English Language news service in Saudi Arabia ( and spotted by Currency Lad ):
GAZA CITY, 17 August 2004 : Israel yesterday announced plans to use the aromas of barbecues and fresh bread to break a day-old hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners. The 1,700 inmates, seen by Palestinians as symbols of resistance to Israeli occupation, want wardens to stop strip searches, allow more frequent family visits, improve sanitary conditions and install public telephones, supporters said.

Israeli officials call the protest launched Sunday a ploy by the prisoners to secure easier communication with groups waging an almost four-year-old uprising, and have vowed to fight their liquids-only fast.

The Prisons Service said it would draw on tactics used in hunger strikes by jailed Northern Irish militants in the 1970s and 1980s, such as withholding basic amenities. "Among the various methods we plan to employ is holding barbecues outside the walls of the affected prisons," a Prisons Service spokesman said.

"We look at psychological means to deal with problems like this," Prisons Service spokesman Ofer Lefler said. “Our interest is to return prisoners to eating as soon as possible.” He said no decision had been made on when to begin the threatened cookouts.
Utter, Utter, Utter BASTARDS!

Friday 20 August 2004

Bears Against Busch!

This one's for N.Z.. From the ABC :
Workers at a US resort were stunned to find a black bear passed out drunk on their lawnafter he guzzled 36 beers in a night of drunken revelry, they said.

Lisa Broxon, a staff member at the Baker Lake Resort outside the US city of Seattle, says staff discovered the large and furry visitor sound asleep in the campground when they turned up for work.

"It is very unusual to see a bear just lying there sleeping on the lawn, so the camp host started looking around to find out what had happened," she said.

"He found that some campers had left out some coolers and that the bear had broken into them and started drinking their beer after opening the cans with his teeth.

"The strange thing is that he appeared to like only Rainer [a local brand] beer and he tried one can of Busch but didn't even finish it."

Fish and Wildlife Department officers were called to the campground when staff began to worry about how the drunk bear would behave when he woke up.

But the large intruder lumbered off before he could be caught, prompting the wildlife experts to set a trap to lure him back the following day.

The bait for the trap: more Rainier beer, of course.

Ms Broxon says the bear was caught and safely relocated to an area well away from humans, and bottle shops, following the incident three weeks ago.

"This is the first time I've heard of a bear drinking beer. He was obviously a party animal," she said.

A Norwegian Solution?

A good friend, and reader, Fven writes :
I understand that, if I ever do meet someone that could be my best friend for life - the two of us together would make you a trifle uneasy (understating), yet the fact that you recognise this, and also recognise that there are people around you that you do not wish harm, yet have this.. um well I'd rather not admit it either, but it ain't going away... so I guess I just have to live with it..

Your "Confessions of a homophobe", to me is not homophobic at all really, though I guess the street meaning of homophobe is "homo - hurt", rather than "homo - don't understand - kinda scared"

Many people I hear raise objections to gay marriage on the grounds of $Deity. I feel a system similar to that of Norway (at least and I think some other European nations) solves the problem quite nicely. To solve this objection, the civil and the religious aspects of marriage are completley divorced (pardon the pun).

The state counts a couple as married if and only if they have had a ceremony in the Town Hall. Many couples then *choose* to have an additional ceremony in their place of worship.

Insurance, hospitals etc only require the Town Hall (civil) marriage, to grant coupes rates, visitation rights etc.
Any religion/ other (non-state) marriage granting institution, is free to abide by its own rules of association.

On a related issue, there was recently much debate in an Australian setting. centering around the playschool episode where a small child went to the park with her "two mums". The debate seemed to centre around whether playschool was reflecting or pushing current social standards and whether this was an appropriate thing to be shown on a generally parent-approved program.

I take another stance: Small children can be quite vindictive. Scenario: $child1 is picked up at school by $parent1=(two mums| two dads | one mum, one day other mum next day | etc), $child2 is picked up at same time by $parent2, who makes some snide remark regarding $parent1. $child2 then parrots this remark at school the next day and it sticks causing some grief to $child1 and probably to $techer. Any other $child3, who may also have gay parents gets caught up in the whole deal... we end up with $mess.

$child1, who we consider known *and* any other $child3, that is unknown may watch that episode and know that they are NOT alone. Hopefully $child2 will also watch same episode and know that well, it happens and it seriously can't be helped.

Yeah - I watched playschool with my younger sister so it would affect older children as well.
I hope I'm as tolerant of other people's odd beliefs as she is of mine.

Thursday 19 August 2004

Support The Election of Iraqi Bloggers!

Iraqi BloggersSome Iraqi Bloggers are running for election to the Iraqi National Assembly.

Naturally, they announced it on their blog,Iraq the Model.

I popped their party logo, (Iraq Pro-Democracy Party is the official name) over on the left. Feel free to donate some spondulix to them - I did, and lord knows, money's pretty tight right now. Why? Well just read what these people have been through.
One night in the beginning of the 80s 10 security cars came carrying the bodies of 10 young men who all seemed in their early twenties. We started to burry them but as we were writing down their names we noticed something really strange, they were all carrying the name “Sabah”! What was even stranger that the same thing happened for the next days. Every day a new group of dead men all named “Sabah” until the number reached 40!

We didn’t know the reason at that time, was it just a coincidence or what? Later on, after the war we knew what happened after one of the security officers was arrested and told the story. The reason behind this strange story was that one of Al Dawaá party members was arrested. He refused to give them the name of the guy in charge of his group and during the terrible torture and as he was about to collapse he broke down and said, “Sabah, a student in the college...” he couldn’t finish his words out of pain and exhaustion and went in coma soon. The man died and they (the security) never knew anything more from him.

Destiny had an appointment with all the student named “Sabah” in the colleges in Baghdad as the arrested man was from Baghdad, and especially with Sheát ones or those who are not know to be loyal enough to the regime. 40 young men died just because they carried the name “Sabah”!”

This is the story as it appeared on Al Iraqyia TV by the undertakers in “Al Najaf” cemitery. Mere doubts were enough to lead a man to death at those times. This was the time when Saddam was still using documents when he executed “traitors” before he changed his style as the number of “traitors” increased incredibly and started to use mass graves in remote areas without using any document. The number was too high to be contained in Iraq’s cemeteries.
Go over to the party site, have a look at the policies. Then have a look at the blog, to get an insight into the personalities of the candidates. Unless you're Iraqi, you can't give them your vote (which is as it should be). But you can give them some money to defray expenses. Given that the Saddamites have the odd Million or two lying round, a few dollars to balance things wouldn't go astray.

Wednesday 18 August 2004

Selling England Software By The Pound

From Professor Hall's excellent blog on Spacecraft Design :
There's a story about some people who were writing the software for an early avionics computer.

One day they were visited by the weight control officer, who was responsible for the total weight of the plane.

"You're building software?"


"How much does it weigh?"

"It doesn't weigh anything."

"Come on, you can't fool me. They all say that."

"No, it really doesn't weigh anything."

After half an hour of back and forth, he gave up. But two days later he came back and said, "I've got you guys pinned to the wall. I came in last night, and the janitor showed me where you keep your software."

He opened a closet door, and there were boxes and boxes of punch cards. "You can't tell me those don't weigh anything!"

After a short pause, they explained to him, very gently, that the software was in the holes.
(Originally from a speech at the NAE, and also quoted on NPR)

On a related note, there's an article in Internet Week :
Washington Decrees Microsoft Must Sell Software By The Pound
...In order to establish a "fair" pricing regime for alternative middleware, supposedly to protect competitors like Netscape from unregulated "tying," the Justice Department wants to set software prices based on the weight of the code. I am not making this up. Take a look at judgment provision 3(g)ii, reproduced below...
That led me to think about how much software *does* weigh. Assuming you start with memory randomised, equal numbers of zeroes and ones, how many electrons are needed compared with memory filled with all-zeroes or all-ones? Which should be assumed to be the initial state? Does a program have more ones than zeros, and what is the mass difference? Not that it matters, it's less than the difference in weight between a hot CPU and a cold one. And enormously outweighed by the difference between a CPU with one person's fingerprint on it, and someone else's. What I'm most interested in is whether the weight is positive or negative, not the actual amount.

Oh yes, Selling England By The Pound is THE classic album by Genesis. Catchy title too.

Tuesday 17 August 2004

X-Prize Glitches

Crossing (Out) the Rubicon :
No one was hurt in the test of the Rubicon 1 just south of Olympic National Park. The 23-foot-long, 38-inch-diameter spacecraft held three dummies simulating the weight of astronauts.

The rocket, which crashed about 200 feet from takeoff after its parachute failed to deploy, will have to be completely rebuilt, said Eric Meier, a mechanical engineer and co-founder of Space Transport Corp., of Forks.

The Armadillo Aerospace Vehicle had a small problem... :
Saturday was a perfect day for flying, so we went out to the 100 acres for a boosted hop. We had high expectations for success, since the vehicle had been operating perfectly on all tests so far.

After we loaded up the propellant and pressurized the vehicle, we ran into a problem. When I opened it up to 20% throttle for the warmup it looked like it cleared up fine, but the telemetry was only reading 100C, as if the hot pack hadn’t started heating. We were a long way from the vehicle, so we couldn’t really tell what was going on. I gave it a bunch of slugs of propellant until it finally started going up in temperature properly, but we had blown a lot of propellant out on the ground. Too much.
Basically, it ran out of go-juice at 600 feet up, and climbing. Oopsie.
We had telemetry all the way to the time of impact, which matched the video perfectly, landing eight meters from the launch point. The vehicle hit the ground basically sideways, a little tail first. The bottom manway flange broke off the tank, and the 450 pound tank with 180 psi pressure still in it got punted about 200 yards away by the gas release. $35,000 of rocket is now a whole lot of primo Armadillo Droppings. There are a few pipe fittings that survived, but that’s about it. Amazingly, even though the on-board camera was destroyed, the tape did survive with only some scuffed sections. It’s a good thing Doom 3 is selling very well…

Monday 16 August 2004

Coming From (60 years) Behind

Canadian ArrowI've mentioned both the odds-on favourite in the X-Prize race, and the plucky outsider in a previous post.

Now comes news from the back of the field. Canada's second entry, the Canadian Arrow, has just completed a drop test from 2400 metres into Lake Ontario.

The Canadian Arrow is based upon the venerable but proven A-4 design by Wehner Von Braun's jolly crew at Peenemunde, first launched over 60 years ago. But in these days of Robots and Computer-aided manufacture rather than slave labour, it should be a whole lot more reliable.

Up until 1943, the Germans actually were building something even more ambitious than the Arrow - the A-9 piloted(!) transatlantic bombardment missile.


Homeland SecurityGames:

A Murder of Scarecrows.


The movie of that great Revolutionary Anthem, Cows With Guns, by Dana Lyons (his site is where you can get the T-shirt illustrated on the right).
Nobody thunk it, nobody knew
No one imagined the great cow guru
Cows are one

He hid in the forest, read books with great zeal
He loved Che Guevera, a revolutionary veal
Cow Tse Tongue


I'm still trying to extract the meaning from this quote:
If we hadn't voted the way we voted, we would not have been able to have a chance of going to the United Nations and stopping the president, in effect, who already had the votes and who was obviously asking serious questions about whether or not the Congress was going to be there to enforce the effort to create a threat.
Any takers? ( Speaker was John F Kerry at a Democratic candidates debate in Baltimore, September 2003 ).

Colin Powell in The Atlantic

One of my favourite raconteurs is P.J.O'Rourke, author of 'Give War a Chance', 'Republican Party Reptile' and other ha-ha-only-serious books.

In this month's edition of The Atlantic Online, he interviews another favourite personality of mine, US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Now that may sound about as exciting as watching paint dry. Journalist blabs with Politician. *yawn*. But not so, I'll give you some quotes:

On Nuclear Penis Envy:
SECRETARY POWELL: ...My favorite story is, after we got rid of the Pershing IIs and they got rid of their SS-20s, my counterpart Mikhail Moiseyev, chief of the Soviet military general staff, visited Washington in 1991. We had brought one of each of the missiles to the Smithsonian. And he and I are down there with adoring fans watching this unfolding of their SS-20 model and our Pershing. Well, the SS-20 is a big thing. And the Pershing is small. It's much more efficient, a better missile. And so everybody is looking at this. And my wife, Alma, is with me. She pays no attention to any of this military stuff. She's only been a military wife for the past forty years. And she looks at it and says, "How come theirs is bigger?"

Quotable Quotes:
SECRETARY POWELL: ...And we really do not wish to go to war with people. But, by God, we will have the strongest military around. And that's not a bad thing to have. It encourages and champions our friends that are weak and it chills the ambitions of the evil.

A deputy secretary interrupted. "That's good," she said. "Did you just make that up?"

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. Not bad, eh?

Elephants in the Blackboard Jungle
SECRETARY POWELL: You've heard the wonderful story about the elephants? This was at a game reserve in Botswana or somewhere. They had found a dead rhinoceros, and they couldn't figure out who had killed it. The rhinoceros doesn't have any natural enemies. They looked and looked and found that there were these elephants, male elephants, that were killing rhinoceros. They were young elephants that had been brought from another reserve far away, but they had been brought just as two adolescent male elephants, and—

P. J. O'ROURKE: An elephant gang.

SECRETARY POWELL: An elephant gang. And so the game keepers didn't know what to do. They didn't want to kill them. And it occurred to some guy, very early one morning he said, "I've got it." They just went and got some older male elephants. They brought two male elephants, adult male elephants in with these teenagers, and within a few months, problem solved. The teenagers didn't know how to act. The male elephants made it clear to them: "Excuse me, boy. This is not what elephants do. We don't go around chomping on rhinoceri."

I've seen this in schools in Washington, D.C., where there are young men, about age eight or nine, who do not know the taboos of family, the shibboleths of the society, the expectations of a family, the need for self-restraint. They don't get it. And so what happens, they go bopping out, and they're out of control.

I Knew Elvis

P. J. O'ROURKE: Really?

SECRETARY POWELL: I met him when he was in the Army. I was a lieutenant; he was a sergeant. He was in the neighboring regiment—or combat command, as we called it—in the Third Armored Division in Germany.

We were in the training area one day and I was driving my jeep around and suddenly came upon this unit from the other outfit and there he was. And so I went over and shook hands.

He was a good soldier. You never would have thought he was anything but a soldier. He had a pimple on his face and everything else. He was not a big star. He was just another soldier.

P. J. O'ROURKE: I'll be darned. Well, good for him.

Rank Hath Its Privileges (Zen and the Art of Volvo Maintenance)
SECRETARY POWELL: I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I'll give you a Volvo on a rope." The rope broke one day coming through the gate at Ft. Myer, with the MPs waving the Chairman through. We coasted until we could get another rope.

We used to do this all the time. Bring them to the house and Sergeant Pearson, now Mr. Pearson, and I would take them apart. We had extra engines, we had extra radiators, had extra transmissions.

P. J. O'ROURKE: Did you have room to do this? My wife gets upset about carburetors on the dining room table.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so I had five garages at Ft. Myer. On the weekends, I would go out there and start rebuilding cars. I still have one of them. I've had it for twelve years now. It's still out in my yard. And it just—it cleared my non-zero-sum mind.
Of course there's lots more stuff on the War against Terror, the Cold War, how to encourage Democracy and discourage Dictatorship, Economic Justice, relations with the EU, and other matters of great importance. Personally, I find it strangely comforting that the guy in charge of this doesn't take himself too seriously, and spends time unravelling the knots of care putting Volvos back in running condition. He also managed a rare feat : he impressed P.J.O'Rourke, not an easy thing to do.

Sunday 15 August 2004

Strengthen The Good Network

Here's a quote from an e-mail I just received:
Here's the idea: Create a network of bloggers who raise awareness of "micro charities"-charitable opportunities that are simple, personal, non-bureaucratic, and, like Susan Tom, inspiring. Charitable opportunities where someone can feel great about giving $1, or even just from reading the story of the charity, it's sponsors, and it's beneficiaries.

We've had starts at this . TroopTrax and Wiggles' work being examples. But what we've lacked so far is the critical mass in the network to create truly widespread attentiveness to charitable opportunities. Metcalfe's Law states that the usefulness, or utility, of a network equals the square of the number of users. Command Post worked not because it was a great idea, but because of the size of it's network: we had over 100 people all over the world posting to, and more important, linking to the site.

While the Command Post was about aggregating information, Strengthening The Good is about amplifying awareness. And for that to work, the size of the network is everything.

So here's the proposition: I'll find them, if you'll link to them.

Last May I registered the domain, which now is the home for a blog of the same name. (It's a placeholder design for now while Sekimori works her magic.) Every third Sunday night I'll post about a "Susan Tom-esque" micro-charity. I'll find them, I'll qualify them, and I'll post their story with enough detail that people can qualify them for themselves, and feel good (or even inspired) by what the charity stands for and who it benefits.

I will NOT ask for donations, or set a goal for donations, as I did with Susan Tom. Instead, the mission of the site is only to raise awareness of the charity in question . to simply say "Look at this, it's a great and inspiring example of good in the world, and if you'd like to contribute $1 or more or get involved in some way, here's where you go to do so."

All I ask is that you join the network: every third Monday, link to that month's charity post. To help us all remember, I'll send an email to every blog in the network as a reminder on Sunday night, including the permalink for the post.

With enough blogs in the network, we should be able to generate significant awareness for each micro-charity, and benefits for each charity should naturally follow. Further, if traffic on the site is high enough to support ad revenues, I'll donate all revenues for that period to its appropriate charity. I'll also pay the hosting fees.

Now, to action: Charley presents the first opportunity. Indeed, I threw the blog up before Seki's design was ready because we're already getting requests from readers about how they should help. Rather than give to the Red Cross, however, I'm working to identify a more local cause, which should pop up in the next day or so. When it does (and it will), I'll post it as the first Strengthen The Good micro-charity. I'll send the reminder email, and I hope you'll join in with your link.

One link is all it takes. The Strengthen The Good blogger network. If we can do it for Carnival of the Vanities, we can do it for people in need.
So in the future, you can expect me to inform you once a month about a Worthy Cause. One to whom you can donate as little as a dollar, less than the price of a cup of coffee, with the assurance that 100 cents of it will actually go to those who need it most. Even if you can't give any money, you can tell your friends about it. Put a link to the post on your office network. Maybe even write an e-mail to your local rag. Or just read about it, and feel good that someone is lighting a single candle rather than cursing the darkness. Whether you call it Charity, Alms for the Poor, or just plain Balancing Karma and making merit, that's up to you.

And should you have a dollar burning a hole in your pocket - and if you're in work, a single buck isn't very much - you can start now by going over to The Command Post to verify that this is on the level (paranoid, aren't I?). Then going over to

If you believe as I do that going into Iraq was an act of Liberation, then here's an opportunity to show that Right-Wing Death Beasts are not just about Death and Destruction. And if you're a caring, sharing Anti-War Peacenik, here's an opportunity to do more than just barrack from the sidelines, show us RWDBs what Peace and Justice really mean. Shame us with Deeds not words.

Gay Marriage : A Personal View

In a comment on a previous post, reader TexasGal wrote:
Personally, I think that the institutions will catch up with the law. For example, once civil unions become recognized as the gay alternative of marriage of heteros, the insurance companies will begin to recognize civil union “spouses” for the purposes of health coverage, pensions systems, etc. all will follow suit. It’s a social change in progress but time will catch up to it. Other things like property, inheritance, can be handled by legal contract means.

I support the conservation of the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, even though I doubt I would ever agree to it… that’s an entirely different discussion however. However, I do feel it is a matter for the US States but at the same time I am concerned that a Supreme Court might take if upon itself to overrule the Marriage Protection Act in the future.
Which is about a US rather than Australian context, but as my original post was about our slavish following the US lead, it's quite appropriate.

Recognition of a Gay Civil Union would meet the vast bulk of my objections, which are based for the most part on the misery caused by the numerous legal and practical problems facing Gay couples. Insurance, property rights, inheritance, that sort of thing. A de-facto Marriage in everything but name. Such a situation I could live with. It should be enough. And yet...

I feel like I have two people standing before me, asking for judgement. On one hand is someone whose Ideology (though not Religious affiliation) is close to mine, pleading that their Sacred Vows of Marriage not be devalued and debased. On the other, I have someone very different from myself who asks the simple question why he shouldn't be allowed to take the same sort of vows with his life partner, a guy he's deeply in love with (the sound you hear is my skin crawling).

The latter is a very simple, very human request. And I cannot answer him. So, on the theory that I should never let Ideology stand in the way of Common Humanity, I have to say that a Civil Union is not enough. Though that will hurt a lot of people who I admire and respect, I'm sorry, I can say no other.

Saturday 14 August 2004

Kerry's Christmas in Cambodia

It will come as news to a lot of readers, but there has been a fairly bitter controversy about Kerry's military service recently.

I say that it will come as news, because the mainstream media, Reuters, AFP, and so on, haven't reported it.

Kerry salutingIt's important because Kerry has made as *the* cornerstone of his campaign, his war-service record in Vietnam and Cambodia. A quick examination of his less-than-spectacular senate record will show you why. He's voted to cut, cut, and cut all miilitary and intelligence spending on every occasion (no disadvantage pre-9/11, but post...), never in a quarter-century sponsoring a single piece of important legislation, etc.

Go over to The Command Post for a precis of what it's about. I'll wait.

Here's a quote, which also says what it's about:
ROBERTSON: What do you think about the other people who are veterans? It seemed like the number of veterans who are going for him, his own men who were on that boat, seem to swear by him. Has he somehow twisted their minds on that?

O'NEILL: They were, first of all, out of all the veterans in our unit, a very small number. Seven or eight people who served directly with him, out of about 10. And then, another small number of other people supported him from our unit. But there are 250-plus that signed the letter that can be found on A list of all their names, running from vice-admiral down to seaman, are contained in my book "Unfit for Command." The truth is, there are a very small number of people who support him. You'll find that some of those people were with him for as short a period of time as two days. The officers who served with him, 25 of them, two are dead. Out of the 23 living survivors who served with John Kerry day after day, operation after operation, 17 of them have condemned him. Seventeen of them indicated he was unfit to be the president of the United States. That's the truth, Pat.

ROBERTSON: You are being attacked for this book, I'm sure. I think there is a complaint before the FEC (Federal Election Commission) that this book was somehow funded contrary to the Campaign Finance Law. What are you going to do about that?

O'NEILL: They have so far had two large law firms send letters to 20 stations threatening suit if they carry our ad. Three different Kerry-related organizations filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission. None of that is going to silence us, Pat. We have 60 people who received the Purple Heart in Vietnam and nine who received the Silver Star. We bought that with blood and service in Vietnam, and when affairs of our unit are being discussed, it is integral to the First Amendment and integral to the ability of people to gain the truth, that we have the right to speak. One thing they can't do yet, Pat, is burn a book. They won't be able to burn this book.
The legal and other attempts to stifle this book, and harass the authors, have been both well-funded and well-organised. That in itself should be major news.

If you want to follow the various stories that Senator kerry has told over the years, have a look over at another article on The Command Post, which catalogues them (the Cambodian stuff is in the 'continue reading' section, and is fairly long). The trouble is, the last update to that article is several days old, and at least two new official Kerry versions have appeared since then. One saying he was misquoted, it was actually "near" Cambodia, within 50 miles anyway, the next saying that he was in Cambodia several times, but in January not December.

None of these stories have impressed the media. Look in the New York Times for a story, or the Washington Post, and there's nothing. The London Telegraph at least reports that a debate exists. The New York Post likewise. But in the main, the media is giving the strong impression of supressing the story until a believable explanation is forthcoming. Meanwhile, the book by Kerry's Comrades-in-Arms that is so damning of him is sailing up the Amazon hit parade. Though both the Barnes and Noble and Amazon sites have had their pages either 'hacked' from the inside, or with fake 'editorial reviews' inserted. The smear campaign against Kerry's critics, which include his entire Chain-of-Command, has been beyond all precedent. Yet the Silence is Deafening.

Friday 13 August 2004

BBC Games

Not the usual ones of spin-the-article, or pin-the-tale-on-the-Minister, or even Tall Stories, but genuine fun and quite educational too.

Today's interesting URL : Battlefield Academy
Pit your wits against the remorseless Artificial Intelligence engine of the Battlefield Academy, in four challenging historical missions.

The computer will be your enemy as you seek to gain tactical battlefield experience. You will only graduate when you have won every mission.

To help you succeed, some of the greatest commanders in history will be on hand to give you tactical advice - and the best players will be entered into each mission's High Score Table.

These are the missions that await you:
  • Stop the Romans from capturing your Celtic hill-fort
  • Eliminate your Wars of the Roses rival in a river-crossing battle
  • Hammer the French fleet in a Napoleonic sea battle
  • Defend the UK from the Luftwaffe
Highly Recommended. You can play online, save the games, and play offline via a download too.

I had a go at the first scenario: although greatly simplified, it captured the essence of the tactical problems facing both sides. The Celts, with great, fast mobs of missile-equipped troops and a few swift-but-brittle chariots, the Romans with a more ponderous but implacable force that would cut to pieces anything that took it on frontally, plus heavy weapons and skirmisher support.

Unusually, it shows the essential point so often missed in many military simulations: the use of reserves, and rotating troops out to re-organise and rest, rather than driving them to destruction. Even if the AI is a little retarded.

Slavishly Following America

(Amplifying a previous post of a year ago) Australian PM John Howard has often been accused by his opponents of being nothing more than a sock-puppet for the USA. As the US goes, Australia follows, slavishly aping its 'Great and Powerful Ally'. Or at least, that's the party line.

I see no reason why two countries, with similar societies and similar interests, should have wildly diverging policies 'just to be different'. Especially in 'Big Picture' matters like Trade, Defence, and Foreign policy. In the matters of great International Worth and Moment, our interests naturally coincide. The usual things, Peace, stability, the World environment, the World economy, Human Rights, things like that. In the minor matters, such as Gun control, Vegemite vs Peanut Butter, exact voting mechanisms and so on, we differ, and differ markedly, and it is good that we do so. Let Evolution and Time decide the winner, if it's important. I've seen no convincing evidence of any slavish imitation, at least until now.

But this new ban on gay marriage just bulldozed through Parliament simply reeks of it.
Federal Parliament has approved a ban on same-sex marriage, with the legislation passing the Senate with Labor's support.

The Government and the Opposition used their numbers to cut short debate on the bill, the first time the "guillotine" power has been used since December 2002.

The legislation defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Why is the subject being brought up now? I've tried to come up with an alternative explanation, but the only possible reason for it I can see is that the issue is currently being debated in the US. Eighteen months ago, there was no issue here. None. Twelve months ago, there was a big media hoo-ha, simply because there was a similar kerfuffle in the USA. And yet today we're presented with the spectacle of both major parties in complete agreement on the issue, and using the Guillotine to silence the 'usual suspects' in the Loony Left section, the one time that the Loony Left might actually have something useful to say. Like pointing out the degree of imitation, which in this case is Not the sincerest form of flattery.

As for the ban itself? Look, I'm an abashed (mild) homophobe. I believe that Homosexuality should be tolerated, not encouraged. I'm about as against it as I am against, say, Disco. And vastly less against it than I'm against Post-Modernism.

But even this homophobe thinks that a Ban against Gay marriage is inhuman. Wrong. Not exactly Evil perhaps, but Spiteful, Petty, Cruel, Mean and even Perverse.

No Church or other religious institution should be compelled to perform a Marriage ceremony for same-sex couples, if that is against the credo of that particular Faith. But Marriage as an institution has been (pardon the expression) divorced from the Religion-du-etat for a century now. Church weddings, if not a minority, are by no means universal. Marriage is certainly about providing a really good, proven-to-work method of rearing children, but there are plenty of childless couples (through choice or otherwise) who prove that it's not solely about that. I'll re-quote Robert Louis Stevenson, it is :
a sort of friendship recognised by the police.
To state the bleedin' obvious, it's about two (or more) people who want to live together as a unit, with a legal contract binding them, and more besides. Because you can't talk about Marriage meaningfully without also talking about Love. Gay people can fall in love too. They can want, even yearn for a symbolic form of recognition that they want to stay together 'till Death do them part', and take a ceremonial vow to this effect, a vow recognised by Society at large. It is altogether right and proper that they be allowed so to do. For if not, it calls into question all other marriages not solemnised according to some particular narrow moral viewpoint, the rights of de facto couples in particular, as well as various polygamous and polyandrous relationships solemnised overseas, yet heretofor recognised in good faith within Australia. There are a whole host of other, legal issues to do with property and such that I wrote about in my previous post, and I won't repeat them. There are married people now, some in parliament, who are wondering whether the legislation will be restrospective or not, and how it affects their status.

For these reasons, this legislation is Bad Law, ill-conceived, perry, narrow and crude. It must not be allowed to stand, and should never have been passed in the first place.

Thursday 12 August 2004

Who are you in the Universe next Door?

Who are you in the Universe Next Door by aebrain
Age Bracket
ProfessionRelief Dosh-Distimmer (Part Time)
Claim to FameSmall entry in What's What
Quiz created with MemeGen!

Testing Meme Propagation In Blogspace: Add Your Blog (blogging)

This posting is a community experiment that tests how a meme, represented by this blog posting, spreads across blogspace, physical space and time. It will help to show how ideas travel across blogs in space and time and how blogs are connected. It may also help to show which blogs (and aggregation sites) are most influential in the propagation of memes. The dataset from this experiment will be public, and can be located via Google (or Technorati) by doing a search for the GUID for this meme (below).

Please join the test by adding your blog (see instructions, below) and inviting your friends to participate: the more the better. The data from this test will be public and open; others may use it to visualize and study the connectedness of blogspace and the propagation of memes across blogs.

The GUID for this experiment is:


The above GUID enables anyone to easily search Google or other search engines for all blogs that participate in this experiment, once they have indexed the sites that participate, which may take several days or weeks. To locate the full data set, just search for any sites that contain this GUID.

Anyone is free to analyze the data of this experiment. Please publicize your analysis of the data, and/or any comments by adding comments onto the original post (see URL above). (Note: it would be interesting to see a geographic map or a temporal animation, as well as a social network map of the propagation of this meme.)


To add your blog to this experiment, copy this entire posting to your blog, and then answer the questions below, substituting your own information, below, where appropriate. Other than answering the questions below, please do not alter the information, layout or format of this post in order to preserve the integrity of the data in this experiment (this will make it easier for searchers and automated bots to find and analyze the results later).

REQUIRED FIELDS (Note: Replace the answers below with your own answers)

(1) I found this experiment at URL:

(2) I found it via "Newsreader Software" or "Browsing the Web" or "Searching the Web" or "An E-Mail Message": "Browsing the Web"

(3) I posted this experiment at URL:

(4) I posted this on date (day/month/year): 10/12/04

(5) I posted this at time (24 hour time): 19:08

(6) My posting location is (city, state, country): Downer, ACT, Australia


(7) My blog is hosted by:

(8) My age is: 46

(9) My gender is: Male

(10) My occupation is: Part-time blogger, Software Engineer (looking for work).

(11) I use the following RSS/Atom reader software: I don't

(12) I use the following software to post to my blog: Just the browser

(13) I have been blogging since (day, month, year): 07/12/2003

(14) My web browser is: Opera 7.54, IE6 Backup

(15) My operating systems are: Windows 98, DrDos7/Gem.

Back Online Again, Again

Hopefully, the new antibiotics are doing the trick. Yes, that's what I said last time. Oh well, I've been fever-free for 36 hours now, I have a new monitor installed so I don't get eyestrain, and I can start repairing the damage I did to those Perl scripts when I wasn't working at 100% efficiency.

BTW the reason for the endorsement of YNZ? Well, rather than just sell me a new monitor (at a very reasonable price of $220, including GST), they first did their damnedest to get the old one working. Alas, not only had a transistor blown, the short had wrecked the high-voltage circuitry. But no fix, no charge. They've got such a terrific reputation through word-of-mouth now that their repair business is overtaking their new equipment sales. Not just hardware, but virusses cleaned, Operating systems installed and patched, a full turnkey service. Oh yes, they deliver too.

Sunday 8 August 2004

War is Hell

Here's a first-hand account that will tell you what lies behind the bald reports you see in the newspapers. It's by a US soldier in Mosul, who was recently caught in an ambush on Thursday, just a few days ago.

Some subtitles for those readers not au fait with military jargon:

AK, AK-47: The standard ex-Soviet pattern rifle, used by nearly everyone. Slightly underpowered, but very reliable, and insanely cheap.
RPG, RPG7: Rocket-Propelled Grenade : A "bazooka' like anti-tank weapon, often used against trucks and buildings (not just tanks). Again, an ex-Soviet design.
AT4 : What the US Army uses instead of RPGs. Better but much more expensive.
TOW : Tube-launched Optically-Tracked Weapon, a large anti-tank missile, fired from a vehicle. An RPG may make a small hole in a tank, a TOW can rip it apart.
240, M240 : A small machine gun, used for spraying areas. Fires bullets a *lot* more powerful than an AK-47. Bullets will penetrate a layer of bricks, sheet steel, and are similar to the old .303 and .300 rounds of WW2.
.50, 50cal : A large, usually vehicle-mounted machine gun. Bullets will easily penetrate multiple layers of bricks, and even light armoured vehicles.
Stryker: The newest US light armoured vehicle, 8-wheel, with a turret-mounted weapon. Often mistaken for a wheeled tank. Being tested in combat for the first time.
Beretta : A pistol, fires a weaker round than an AK-47, but quite enough to kill at short range.

T.C. : Turret Commander - the guy who shoots the weapons in the turret.
FOB : Forward Operating Base - essentially, "HQ"
Plt : Platoon - a unit of about 30 men, or 3-5 vehicles.
Sgt : Sergeant, hence Plt Sgt is a Platoon sergeant, the 2nd in command of the platoon.

First, here's what CNN had to say about the incident :
Mosul clashes leave 12 dead
Clashes between police and insurgents in the northern city of Mosul left 12 Iraqis dead and 26 wounded, hospital and police sources said Wednesday.
Rifle and rocket-propelled grenade fire as well as explosions were heard in the streets of the city.

Now the reality. Some extracts:
I was the T.C. for our vehicle, my job is to be behind the .50 cal, and operate the system, which allows me to fire it, which down in the hatch, it is this little black and white TV screen with red cross hairs in the middle of the screen. On the right of my seat I have a little joystick type thing, kinda like what fighter pilots have, that has a trigger on it which allows he to fire the 50 when I'm down in the hatch. This was only my second day as a T.C. Sitting right next to me out the hatch was my Plt Sgt.. Shortly as we were driving down the main street leaving our FOB, a man, dressed in all black, jumped out from the side corner of a building, pointed his AK47 right at me. Right at my fucking head and all I saw was the fire from his muzzle flash leaving the end of his barrel as he was shooting at me. I heard and felt the bullets whiz literally inches from my head, hitting all around my hatch and 50 cal mount making a "Ping" "Ping" "Ping" sound. I ducked the fucked down in the hatch. I yelled "We're taking fire! 3 O'clock!!! Turned the gun around towards where the guy was and fired a burst. I fired a burst right over our back air guard hatch where our First Sgt was sticking out of and shooting. He yelled "Tell him to stop fucking shooting over my head!!!" Shit. My bad. I looked over and my PLT Sgt who was sticking out the hatch next to me a couple seconds ago was now dropped down from the hatch and now on his back. He was yelling, "I'm Hit! I'm hit!" I looked at his helmet and a bullet went right through his helmet and exited through the other side. Holy shit! I didn't see any blood on him. He looked completely dazed though. He took his Helmet off and observed the holes in his helmet. No fucking shit, the bullet entered his helmet, and exited through the other side, missing his upper forehead by like 1-100th of an inch. A fuckin miricale. He was standing right next to me, that's how close the bullets were from hitting us. We continued driving. We had to drive to the Mosul Bridge that was right next to the Mosul hotel about a couple miles away. There was reports of a buncha people, wearing all black armed with AK's hanging out there. Our job was to locate and kill them. We were driving there on that main street, when all of the sudden all hell came down all around on us, all these guys wearing all black (Black pants, and a black t-shirts tucked in), a couple dozen on each side of the street, on rooftops, alleys, edge of buildings, out of windows, everywhere just came out of fucking nowhere and started firing RPG's and AK47's at us. I freaked the fuck out and ducked down in the hatch. I yelled "WE GOT FUCKIN HAJI'S ALL OVER THE FUCKIN PLACE!!! THERE ALL OVER GOD DAMNIT!!!" Bullets were pinging off our armor all over our vehicle, and you could hear multiple RPG's being fired and flying through the air and impacting all around us. All sorts of crazy insane Hollywood explosions bullshit going on all around us. I've never felt fear like this. I was like, this is it, I'm going to die. I cannot put into words how scared I was. The vehicle in front of us got hit 3 times by RPG's. I kind of lost it and I was yelling and screaming all sorts of things. (mostly cuss words) I fired the .50 cal over the place, shooting everything. My driver was helping me out and pointing out targets to me over the radio. He helped me a lot that day. They were all over shooting at us. My PLT was stuck right smack dab in the middle of the ambush and we were in the kill zone. We shot our way out of it and drove right through the ambush. The street we were driving down to escape, had 3 to 4 story high buildings all along each side, as we were driving away all you could see were 100's and 100's of bullets impacting all over these buildings.
There's a lot more. You see, he has to go back and do it all again...

All quotes from MY WAR : Fear and Loathing in Iraq

Saturday 7 August 2004

Return of the Daleks

...And Unintended Consequences. From The Australian :
Dr Who's scariest enemy, the Daleks, will be back to terrorise a new generation of children following the settlement of a legal dispute that had threatened to exterminate the mechanised monsters.

Last month the BBC, which is about to start filming a new Dr Who series with Christopher Eccleston in the time-lord title role, announced it would be unable to use the Daleks after negotiations broke down with the estate of their creator Terry Nation.

Representatives of the science-fiction writer, who died in 1997, accused the BBC of ruining the Daleks brand. The BBC said Nation's estate was demanding an unreasonable level of editorial control.

The dispute threatened to blight the second childhoods of millions whose first childhoods were spent watching in delighted horror from behind sofas as the Daleks chased various incarnations of Dr Who around the galaxy.

"Dr Who without the Daleks would be like Morecambe without Wise or Wimbledon without strawberries," declared Antony Wainer of the Dr Who Appreciation Society.

Predictably, it was London tabloid the Sun that last month took the campaign to save the Daleks the furthest: to the streets of Manhattan, where harried New Yorkers were clearly bemused at being accosted by the inter-galactic baddies, spraying gas from their stun guns and chanting: "Ex-ter-min-ate."

Yesterday, BBC drama series chief Mal Young announced the dispute had been resolved and the new 13-part series would include Daleks.
So that miserable waste of ink and celluloid, the Sun, finally justifies its existence. Millions of Trees have not died (or been dyed) in vain after all! And to translate the Brit phrases for Aussie readers, make that 'Pies without Sauce, Pubs without Beer'. And for those living in the US, 'Baseball without Hot Dogs, Abbot without Costello'.

As for the Unintended consequences? :
But this time the Doctor had better beware. Back in the old days the Daleks' reliance on wheels meant that all he had to do to evade them was to run up some steps.

Improved wheelchair access in most buildings has put paid to that and will mean his arch-enemies are a lot more mobile.

Political Gangrene

Some Evils don't go away if you ignore them. Here's an example:

First, Jewish Graves Desecrated in Wellington, NZ

Then, the reaction :
Of course I don't support the desecration of graves however I also have not made personal statements on numerous other topics that have been in the media in recent times, I frankly do not have time to cover everything.

Rod Donald MP
Green Party Co-Leader

Finally, the result.

Anti-Semitism has inflitrated much of the Green-Left movement. At best, a fashionable neglect of such 'minor issues' (they're only Jews - probably all Zionists anyway), at worst Mystical Aryan Judenhass. I invite any readers of the Green pursuasion to take a good, long look at their party. It's your problem. Fix it.

Friday 6 August 2004

Canberra Under Siege

Well, almost. You see, we're in drought at the moment. It's currently the rainy season, but you woldn't know it. Yesterday it rained - but we haven't had a day like that for literally months, and one day was all we got. The local wildlife is doing it tough, as this report from the Canberra Times illustrates :
In the third attack in Canberra's suburbs in less than a month, a Nicholls woman was nursing deep scratches to her arms, legs and chest yesterday after a violent struggle with a large kangaroo while walking her dog.

The attack occurred at about 10.30am yesterday in the reserve opposite the Gold Creek Country Club in Nicholls, an area often frequented by children and their pets.

Maree Steer had been walking her Labrador, Nelson, on the reserve when the dog disappeared from view.
"I walk the dog on that reserve almost every single day up there; we see kangaroos there [on the reserve] quite often ... and Nelson has a game where he pretends to chase them away but gives up very quickly."

However, this large roo, estimated at some 1.6m in height and weighing around 60kg, stood its ground while growling ominously.

"Nelson was trying to grab its tail but then it [the roo] turned very quickly toward me and lashed out with its front paw, catching me all down the arm and across the chest with its claws."

"I thought: 'bloody hell, we're in trouble here'."

To buy herself time to get away, Ms Steer picked up a large broken tree branch and "belted it [the roo] across the head".

"It was a bit stunned by that but then the next thing I felt this huge thump on my chest and stomach and I was lying on my back on the ground with the roo standing over me," she said.

She believes it was only that her dog had hold of the kangaroo's tail and it couldn't properly use its powerful hind legs to rip further at her body that she managed to escape very serious injury.

"I just had enough to time to roll away and as I got up, I thumped him [the roo] again with the bit of wood."
And the motto of the story is : you get better results with a kind word and a piece of 4 x 2 than a kind word alone.

Thursday 5 August 2004

One Double Standard, to Go

I assume that unless you're deaf, dumb, blind, and trussed up in a box, that you've been exposed to the Great Plastic Turkey Scandal?

How Bush's minders pre-arranged a photo opportunity?
Showing Bush with a Plastic Turkey?
Specially flown in with him?
And gotten the troops up at 5.35am for it?

(See this interview for example)

All of which is completely bogus, debunked etc. but never mind that, the press had a field day, and 'never let the facts interfere with a good story'. The meme has even been used to show that There's no such thing as Al Qaeda etc.

Well, here's something a little less factually-challenged, nicely summarised by the pen of Mark Steyn :
Friday was the Edwardses' 27th anniversary, so, in keeping with tradition, they hit the Newburgh Wendy's, along with the Kerrys, campaign mascot Ben Affleck and accompanying press crew.

The photo-op didn't go smoothly. Kerry went over to say hi to some marines, who turned out to be Bush supporters and resented the interruption to their lunch. More telling was Teresa Heinz Kerry. She pointed to the picture of the bowl of chilli above the clerk's head: "What's that?" she asked. He explained that it was something called "chilli" and she said she'd like to try a bowl. The Senator also ordered a Frosty, a chocolate dessert. They toyed with them after a fashion, and then got back on the bus.

It then emerged that Wendy's had just been an appetiser. The campaign advance team had ordered 19 five-star lunches from the Newburgh Yacht Club for Kerry, Edwards, Affleck and co to be served back on the bus: shrimp vindaloo, grilled diver sea scallops, prosciutto, wrapped stuffed chicken, etc.
"Let them Eat Chilli!"

Funny how this hasn't received the same amount of publicity. I mean, everyone loves to hear scandal about the rich-powerful-and-pretentious being caught in blatant hypocracy. You'd almost think it was a Double Standard, with or without lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions. Or Fois Gras.

Tuesday 3 August 2004

Hardware Problems and Toddlers

First, I had problems with my CD drive (all fixed now). Now Andrew has managed to wreck my 15 inch monitor. My backup monitor is too ancient for the video circuitry in the new motherboard to drive it, and I'm now using a flaky old 12 inch one that cuts out momentarily every few seconds.

We now have a large enough collection of dead electronics gear to hire a trailer and send it to a recycling plant. 2 VCRs, a 51cm TV, a 15 inch monitor that's dead, another one that's now obsolete not just obsolescent ( complete with CGA to VGA cable, yes it is that ancient ), two phones, a laser printer, a DVD player... Andrew didn't break all of them. The laser printer and one of the phones aren't his fault.

Still, he managed to repair at least one piece of kit, so he's doing very well for someone who's just turned 3.

Sunday 1 August 2004

And They're Racing...

The ContendersFrom :
Aerospace engineer, Burt Rutan, leader of Scaled Composites of Mojave, California, has formally announced a timetable for back-to-back flights of the firm's SpaceShipOne rocket plane.

Rutan and his team have given its official 60-day notice, with the first X Prize attempt set for September 29 from the inland Mojave Spaceport in California. To win the $10 million, SpaceShipOne will need to make a second flight within two weeks, by October 13.

Hot on Rutan's heels is Brian Feeney, leader of the Canadian da Vinci Project. Feeney also reported today that his team is rolling out on August 5 their completed X Prize vehicle -- the balloon-lofted Wild Fire rocket. The public unveiling will take place at the team's Downsview Airport hanger in Toronto.

The da Vinci Project Team, widely heralded as a contender for the $10 million purse, will pursue its own Ansari X Prize space flight attempts this Fall.
The most amazing thing about the Canadian entry is the cost :
Feeney said that roughly $337,000 dollars in cash has gone into the balloon/rocket project, along with some $10 million to $15 million dollars worth of time donated by people, as well as help from in-kind sponsors.