Friday 31 December 2004

The Worst Day Ever?

From the Malaysia Star, there's this :
Indonesia is facing the possibility that as many as 400,000 people there died from the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami on Boxing Day.

“Currently, we have about 50,000 listed as dead but there are so many affected areas that we have not reached yet, where there is no communication and the final count might reach 400,000,” Indonesian Ambassador to Malaysia Prince Rusdihardjo said.

He said that from the air, they could see the town of Moulabouh in the west of Aceh some 140km from the epicentre (of the earthquake) had been almost 80% decimated.

“There are no buildings standing except for a military building that was on slightly higher land. There are only bodies everywhere, they could not see anyone alive but we hope some managed to get away. The population there is estimated to be 150,000.

“There are probably about 30 islands that are totally or partially submerged,” Rusdihardjo told reporters after receiving cheques totalling RM1mil from the Permodalan Nasional Berhad Group here.
More people have died in man-made disasters, such as the Holocaust, World Wars I and II, the Red Terror, the Cultural Revolution and the Tai-Ping Rebellion.

Many people have died as the result of Earthquakes, Cyclones and Floods.

1976 Earthquake in Tangshan, China. Officially 255,000, probably more.
1970 Cyclone in Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, 300-500,000
1931 Flood on Yangtse, China, 3-3.7 Million

But if the Ambassador is right - and it's looking likely -, then on no other single day in human history have approximately 500,000 people died.

Worst. Day. Ever.

Thursday 30 December 2004

Space Ship Two

Via Samizdata, from the BBC :
The crowds are long gone from California's Mojave Airport and Burt Rutan's team is back at work on a new flying machine.

Like SpaceShipOne, the homebuilt rocketship that claimed a £5.2m cash prize for twice reaching suborbital space, Rutan's next creation will travel beyond Earth's atmosphere as well.

SpaceShipTwo (SS2), however, will have more than a single occupant.

Rutan is toying with designs to accommodate up to eight passengers at a time, with enough upgrades to warrant a ticket in the £104,000 ($200,000) price range.

"I think anyone who had the chance to go would want to go," said Trevor Beattie, a British advertising personality, who already has booked a flight.
Rutan, who has been averaging better than one new aircraft design every year for the past three decades, says he is finished with airplanes for a while.

The mission now for his Mojave-based company, Scaled Composites, is to create 3,000 new astronauts a year - per departure point, Rutan adds, and per ship.

"Mojave is not going to be the only place in the world where there will be a place to buy tickets and fly a spaceflight," Rutan said.

Virgin SpaceshipThe partnership that built SpaceShipOne, Mojave Aerospace Ventures, has its first paying customer: Sir Richard Branson.

The backbone of the Branson venture, called Virgin Galactic, will be five vehicles based on SS2. Each will be capable of flying at least five and more likely around eight people at one time.

SpaceShipTwo will not look anything like its predecessor. For one thing, Rutan must fix a stability problem caused by SpaceShipOne's high upswept wings.

For another, Rutan and Branson plan a ship of luxury, with service and amenities that at least match Virgin Atlantic's upper-class travel service. And that, as any airline flier knows, starts with leg room.

Rutan said SpaceShipTwo would have about the same diameter crew cabin as a Gulfstream V business jet, which measures slightly more than 6ft in height and 7ft in width (1.9m by 2.2m).
The best part of all, Rutan added, was that 15 years from now, "every kid who dreams, 'Wouldn't it be cool to fly in space?' will know that in your lifetime, you are going to go to orbit.

"You will know that, not just dream that. That is the neatest thing about the whole programme."
OK, so it will have taken 65 years, not 15. I will never go to the moon. But maybe Andrew will, even if it's when he reaches retirement age.

Earthquake Poll

Cruising the net, especially over at the Democratic Underground, I found a number of novel theories about the cause of the latest disaster. So I collated some of the more, er, interesting leftist theories, and thought I'd conduct a poll.

For Leftists - What caused the Indian Ocean Earthquake?

View Results

In case you think me guilty of exaggeration, here are a few from DU:

Bush Reversing Earth's Rotation
Evidence it was a man-made disaster
Contamination by 'Space Stuff', 'Electronic Stuff' etc
Global Warming
Seismic Tests near Australia

...and so on.

UPDATE : The good people over at SIAW show an example of tolerance sans pareil. Not everyone on the left, even the far-left, is Idiotarian and counter-rational. Some are not merely tolerant of people not in complete agreement with Party Doctrine, they also have a very human sense of the ridiculous, and a complete lack of self-importance.

UPDATE : UK Indymedia prefers US Secret Weapons, one of Greenpeace UK's directors favours global warming", claiming this natural disaster is "no more natural than a plastic Christmas tree". That's Holiday Tree in America.

Meanwhile, just to prove there are complete loons on the Right too, Westboro Baptist Church thanks God for smiting 2000 Swedish Gays. All I can say is that the God of Pastor Phelps has lousy aim, 100,000 innocents killed just to punish 2,000 sinners? Holy Collateral Damage, Batman! And if the Buddhists are right, his next incarnation is probably going to be as a particle of HIV.

Just Sign Here

From You Must Be Present To Win via Rocket Jones and thence The Cheese Stands Alone

Brains! Delicious Brains!

Wednesday 29 December 2004

It Could Have Been Worse

That's a particularly cold-blooded thing to say about an event that's caused at least half a million casualties (injured and killed), with 70,000 confirmed dead at the moment.

Nonetheless it's true. Just have a look at a graphic of the event.

Indian Ocean Tsunami
Click on graphic to show animation

As you can see from this simulation (Animation provided by Kenji Satake, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan, via ITSU), the Tsunami was focussed mainly to the West, with a slightly lesser wave to the East, and relatively little North and South. especially North.

Indian Ocean Tsunami RadiiNow please look North. The "crinkly bits" to the right of the Indian subcontinent represent the deltas of Bangladesh. Population 141 Million. Most of whom live within 2 metres of sea level. The Maldives only had a population of 280,000, and they were badly hit, with some parts rendered permanently uninhabitable. Bangladesh is at almost exactly the same distance from the epicentre as the Maldives, and are equally low-lying, 2/3 of the country being river delta within a metre or two of sea level.

When the first reports came in, it wasn't clear how big the seismic event was. One source said 6.8, another 8.0, another 8.5. When I saw that last figure, I immediately thought about Bangladesh. Why?

From WorldInfo :
The 1970 cyclone killed over five hundred thousand people. In the 1991 cyclones over two hundred thousand people drowned and many millions of homes were destroyed....
In 1991 a tsunami wave killed one hundred and thirty-eight thousand people in Bangladesh.
That was a small one, and there was plenty of time to see it coming - much smaller than the one that hit the Maldives with no warning.

I'd been thinking about Indian Ocean Tsunamis for a day or two, due to Friday the 13th and Jay Manifold's calculations about an Indian Ocean Impact.

So when the news came that the quake was 8.9 on the Richter Scale (soon to be upgraded to 9.0), I feared the worst. But as the hours ticked by, it soon became more likely that the reason there were no reports of devastation in Bangladesh was because there was no devastation, not because there was no Bangladesh.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for parts of Aceh province in Indonesia, whole towns and villages are on maps, but from aeriel reconnaisance, no longer exist.

When I first started posting about the event over at The Command Post, I feared that the death toll would be in Millions, or even tens of Millions in Bangladesh, with another fifty or a hundred thousand everywhere else combined. Not just feared, I figured that if either the waves were unfocussed and omnidirectional, or focussed North-South, then at least a Million people had just died. I could see no way around it. It would have taken an extraordinary focussing of the energy East-West to keep the toll below that. But wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, such a focussing happened.

Never in my entire life have I been so glad to be wrong.

So now when I see the heartrending pictures - a man cradling the lifeless body of his infant son; a mother with terrible wounds searching desperately for her children; or even think of the gay couple Carmel and I know well (they live not far from us) who were in Phuket and are still unnacounted for - I can't help thinking how much worse it could have been, by a factor of not just 10, but 100.

My favourite Marxist, Norman Geras, discusses with sympathy those whose faith in an Omnibenevolent God has been shaken by this event. Well, there are 10 Million reasons why my agnosticism, and unbelief in a God who participates in human affairs has been shaken. There aren't 10 Million corpses, mainly children, in the Bay of Bengal today. As I write this, I still can't believe that we dodged this particular bullet. When I first posted the alert over at TCP, I had an icy pit in my stomach. Now I'm quite literally shedding a few tears of relief as I type this.

Oh yes, after a steady increase to a chance as high as 1 in 32, it looks like 2004 MN 04 won't be hitting us after all.

It could have been worse.

Weird Wide Web

Seen via chapomatic, I present Skippy, the Goth Kangaroo.

And via Utterly Boring, Michael Jackson's Thriller in Lego (unfortunately over 20 Mb)

Tuesday 28 December 2004

Usage Manual

One of Life's great joys at this time of year is putting together the various toys given by other people to one's three-year-old ( nearly three-and-a-half) son.

Andrew's had great fun from a remote control car, one that flips, spins, and does a pretty good impression of break-dancing. BTW I gave Carmel a yellow remote-control submarine for the bath - every home should have one.

Andrew's toy (made in China) gave me some hilarious moments even before he started to play with it. I'll quote from the "Usage Manual"
  1. Is not suitable for the 3 years old and the following child.
  2. Before beginning uses must hard finish reading this manual.
  3. Suggestion is under the person's leading usage.
After I'd finished chuckling, I had a think about English as she is spoke. After a few moment's thought, it's relatively easy to see that the intent of the instruction was approximately as follows:
  1. Unsuitable for children 3 years and below
  2. Carefully read the manual before use
  3. Suggest use under adult supervision only
OK, it helps to know that in Mandarin, 'Person' implies 'Adult' : children are not 'People' as such. Or so it is IIRC in James Clavell's 'Noble House'.
Anyway, on with the Usage Manual, with spelling exactly as written :
Safe Rule
  1. Prohibition against 3 years old below of child usage;
  2. Play attention, you of finger,hair,clothes...etc.don't touch and car wheel, in order to prevent quilt harm;
  3. Car while driving not want to by hand grasp it;
  4. Don't let the remote control close to any fire withe car original;(such as electric stove, stoe heater, stove beside or mightiness of sunlight bottom)
  5. Dot want the place in danger to play;(such as street, steep slope...etc)
  6. Don't let the wet water of car, and not want under the rainy day is open-air usage;
  7. Dot want on the sand ground to play;
  8. Forbid the child to tear open the remote control with the car;
  9. If the car dash to piecesed,and should pass by the person check or profession personnel maintain the rear can continue to use
The amazing thing is that I can actually understand what they're getting at. If it breaks, get it maintained by an authorised repair technician. Don't expose to heat or bright sunlight. Don't get the car wet. And so on.
Andrew's now fast asleep after a long day, but his Dad is getting just as much fun blogging about Japlish (OK, it's Mandarinlish, but who's counting?), the redundancy inherent in the English language, a deep admiration for some un-Sung (or un-Han or un-Chung...) engineer who, despite his deep and profound unfamiliarity with English, has managed to get the message across anyway. Enough for Government Work.
Amidst the chaos and confusion, disasters natural and man-made, it is truly still an amazing and delightful world.

So remember, you of finger,hair,clothes...etc.don't touch and car wheel, in order to prevent quilt harm. And beware the mightiness of sunlight bottom!


Monday 27 December 2004

Save 'em all, and let God sort them out

Via Tim Blair, a reader at the SMH writes:
It is a sad and grim reminder of how vulnerable we are to the force of nature. A pity our army is busy fighting America's immoral war when they should be providing assistance to the affected areas.

Shane Arnold
From the abstract of a paper (No 56 - scroll down) I co-authored for SimTect 2004, the Australian Simulations Technology conference :
A 6-week 2-person project is described that developed a detailed simulation of airborne logistics transport for evacuation and disaster recovery in remote areas.
Cargoes to be transported are in general heterogenous, including outsized and oversized loads such as generators, vehicles, and bulk containers of assorted sizes requiring special handling.
Each individual flight is modelled in detail, along with taxiing, loading, refueling and air traffic control delays. Both Fixed- and Rotary-wing aircraft are modelled, as are limitations such as MOG and ACN of airfield nodes.
The xtUML process and Bridgepoint tool were used to develop the simulation, which is quantised to the level of 1 minute increments of time. The resultant executable is generated using a C++ model compiler.
The requirements of the simulation underwent significant refinement during the course of the project, requiring agile techniques. The problems and benefits of agile development are described, along with metrics about the development process.
The possibilities of planned extension of the model to cover road-, rail- and sea-borne transport with modal-split are discussed.
Annette was the xtUML Guru and Expert on Bridgepoint - as well as being a top person to work with. I provided the knowledge about how to simulate stuff and the "domain knowledge' - when the wind is southerly, I know a Hercules from a Hacksaw. Or a Candid from a Caribou for that matter.

Finally, from the ABC :
Prime Minister John Howard has offered his deepest sympathy to Australia's Asian neighbours which have been devastated by tsunamis.
Australia is to provide an initial $10 million of relief assistance which will go to the Red Cross, other non-government organisations and directly to Indonesia.

This afternoon two C-130 Hercules headed to the region laden with supplies such as water purification units, blankets and bottled water.

Mr Howard says he will speak to leaders from the region over the next day to learn what further help Australia can offer.

"I imagine that it will be some days before the full extent of this tragedy unfolds," Mr Howard said.

"I can only repeat that the Australian people feel great sympathy for our friends in the region.

"We'll do everything we can as a regional neighbour and a regional friend to assist the countries that have been so badly affected."

The Government says it will donate more money as the full scale of the disaster unfolds.
It will take a few days before we have a good idea what we should be sending. It will also take us a few days to gather up spare ROWPUs (Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units) - which weigh quite a few tonnes each - generators and the like. In the meantime, 2 C-130 loads of supplies that were top-ups destined for Iraq and Afghanistan have been diverted to help.

We - and by that I mean those baby-eating bloodthirsty barbarians in the Australian military - have plans for dealing with natural disasters. We - and by that I mean us Evil Warmongering Boffins that support the military - even develop simulations and models to help the guys in uniform plan what to do. Unlike some SHM readers, we don't have a direct line to God, so we don't know when and where such catastrophes will occur. The same resources that could support an armoured infantry company operating round Mosul would also be useful for relieving natural disasters, and more importantly, there are plans so to use them. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, provided we don't over-commit ourselves. That's why we have so few troops in Iraq, and resisted the strong pressure from the USA pre-war to commit more in the post-war phase. The US understood this, and didn't make a fuss about us keeping a Strategic Reserve.

More importantly, we don't just write Idiotarian letters to the SMH decrying terrorism, we do something about it. We also don't just write factually-challenged letters to the SMH about the "force of nature", we do something about that too.

We do what we can, reflexive and limited immediate aid first, but we also figure out what's needed, think and research before acting. You save more lives that way, even if the wilfully ignorant of the chattering classes get into a lather because of it.

Like the War on Terror, we're all in this together. In cases like this, we don't worry about what stupid and insulting things various Malaysian government bigwigs have said about us recently, nor even whether today's victims in Aceh were slaughtering Christians and burning down Churches last week. When Mother Nature throws a tantrum, we save 'em all, and let God sort them out.

If you want to help, try going to The Command Post, which is maintaining a list of relief organisations you can donate to.

And G'day from Oz once again to visitors coming from Instapundit. Feel free to have a look around. Just hit the HOME link on the left, browse through the archives, or use the search facilities on a word or phrase of your choice. You'll find links to games, puzzles, articles on Brain function and AI, a guide to Australian Politics, articles on space (some first-hand, as I'm a sometime Rocket Scientist), a banana-bending machine, a virtual Tardis, and "Blue Suede Shoes" in Klingon. (If these words look familiar, they are. They've been re-used from a previous post. As a Systems/Software Engineer, I re-use good Program fragments all the time. If it works, don't fix it.)

Sunday 26 December 2004

First-Hand Account of the Great Indian Ocean Earthquake

An e-mail from a mate of mine (we worked together on FedSat) :
Hi Everyone,

This is a picture of the beach near home ... see The Hindu for newspaper article.


From left, there is the main road. You see the little horizontal road near the bottom of the picture going from the main road onto the brown beach road. Yukta and I every day drive our car into that section (now under water) and park there while walking along the water's edge on the far right of the picture.

In the brown car park section that is now under water, there were cars picked up and thrown over the fence separating it from the main road.

Last night Yukta and I were walking there with a friend, laughing and chatting and playing fools in the soft sand enjoying the breeze.

I had planned to go walking on the beach with Yukta's father this morning at about 7am while Yukta and her mother went to gym, but we cancelled because Yukta's mother felt like relaxing instead of going. Wave came at 6:45am.

Yukta's parents felt the earthquake this morning ... they said it felt as though the bed was on a swing for 5-7 seconds. Hehe, I was waaay to fast asleep.

The wave(s) that came were 4-5 m high. If they could pick up those cars and throw them over the fence, we wouldn't have had a chance.

Lots of fishermen live on the beach with their wives and babies in tiny little tents they make from branches and cloth. Their heavy canoe-like boats rest on logs just at the water line and you can walk past them watching them take little fish from their nets. These people would have been washed away, as well as at least the 50 reported morning-walkers. Estimates for total deaths on this beach is at least 100.

Catchya later,

More details on the situation over at The Command Post. Sometimes I hate reporting stories, and this is one of them. Thousands dead so far, and I'm still very concerned about the lack of reports from Bangladesh.

UPDATE: We appear to have dodged the bullet in Bangladesh. And a welcome to Instapundit and Grand Technical Station readers. Rather than the traditional "Please feel free to have a look around", may I suggest you have a look over at The Command Post for a list of methods you can use to actually help out in this disaster. And that you return to have a look at this blog in happier times.

A Late Christmas Present

From yesterday's e-mail list :
Very nice. Very funny.
We bookmarked you, for what it is worth.
To me, that's worth one heck of a lot. My thanks. It's e-mails and comments like this that have made blogging such a rewarding experience. The ego-boo is good (I realise I'm not in the same league as recent Australian bloggers like Chrenkoff, but I've been nominated in the category of Best Australian Tech Blog 2005). It's knowing that I've made someone else a smidgin happier... that's priceless. Thanks to one and all.

Ta for the Christnmas presents, at last count just shy of 50,000 unique visits.

Saturday 25 December 2004

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th of April 2029 has a 1 in 62.5 chance of being a Bad Day if you're in the wrong spot.

According to the latest data from NASA, an asteroid has been detected and tracked with that chance of hitting the Earth on that date.

If it happens, the impact would be the equivalent of an explosion of about 2,200 Megatonnes of TNT.

This is the first time that any asteroid has been detected with a Torino Scale Threat Rating of greater than 1. Until the latest measurements earlier today, the rating was 2. It's now 4.

Here's the definition of what Torino 4 means :
A close encounter, with 1% or greater chance of a collision capable of causing regional devastation.
Note: this is not a "Dinosaur Killer", and anyone on a different continent from the impact will likely only be aware of it from news broadcasts, spacetacular sunsets, and a few slightly colder than normal seasons - much the same as if a number of major volcanos let rip simultaneously.

On the other hand, anyone within a hundred miles of the impact would likely have a tough time. The crater will be nearly 4 miles across. Anyone within 50 miles will get 200 mph winds, a bombardment of rocks ranging from golfball size to football size, and the equivalent effects of a magnitude 6.8 earthquake. (Data from the Impact Effects Calculator, with parameters of Velocity 12.59 km/sec, 0.44 km diameter size, Dense Rock, 45 degree impact angle).

More calculations based on earlier data over at A Voyage to Arcturus

Looks like I was ten days early with my post on this subject.. the point is though, that even if this one doesn't hit, nor the next, nor the next, eventually one is going to, and it may not be nearly so minor.

The newly created NASA Impact Risk page has a table that puts the thing into perspective. They also provide a useful visualisation tool, a Java applet that gives a simulation of the asteroid's orbit.

UPDATE: Jay Manifold at A Voyage to Arcturus now has more calculations and analysis based on the latest data. If you want the numbers, he's the man.

And G'day from Oz to visitors coming from Instapundit via Arcturus. Feel free to have a look around. Just hit the HOME link on the left, browse through the archives, or use the search facilities on a word or phrase of your choice. You'll find links to games, puzzles, articles on Brain function and AI, a guide to Australian Politics, articles on space (some first-hand, as I'm a sometime Rocket Scientist), a banana-bending machine, a virtual Tardis, and "Blue Suede Shoes" in Klingon.

Christmas with a Dalek

I see the old link I had has gone to the Great Bit Bucket in the Sky.

But I've found a new one.
Is everything associated with Christmas in Britain bizarre and disturbing? To answer that question we offer up the following song, I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas with a Dalek by the Go Go's. Not the Belinda Carlisle Go-Go's, but some 1960s British band.

This is one piece of work. As if the lisping woman-child vocals weren't disturbing enough, they are counterpointed by a fake Dalek voice and a Peter Gunn bridge. And the bizarre sexual innuendo is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

So here's I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With a Dalek.

And for your bogus bonus listening pleasure, from A Small Victory, The Night Santa Went Crazy, by Weird Al Yankovic.

Then there's A Cthulhu Christmas.
Twas the night before Yuletide and all through the hole
Not a creature was stirring, not even a Dhole
Aldebaran hung at the right place at nine
In the hopes that Great Cthulhu would come out this time
The Fungi from Yuggoth, all snug in their caves
Were plotting to turn all the people to slaves...
But Wait, there's More! A veritable Feast of Cthulhu Christmas Carol Lyrics! Mouldy Oldies such as:

God Rest Ye Scary Great Old Ones
Hark, the Nameless Cultists Sing
Great Old Ones are Coming to Town
...and a non-euclidean number of others.

Then there's A Very Scary Solstice (from the minds of the same entities who were responsible for A Shoggoth On The Roof). Some mp3 Samples:

I'm Dreaming of a Dead City
Freddy the Red-Brained Mi-Go
Do You Fear What I Fear?

And a few full songs, such as Great Old Ones are Coming to Town

Not much of a gift to all my readers, but I hope the thought will suffice. Merry Christmas.

Friday 24 December 2004

Twas the Night Before Christmas

.. when all through the house,
No blogger was writing
With keyboard and mouse.

Normal Blogging will resume in a day or two. Until then, Merry Christmas.

Thursday 23 December 2004

The Year in Quotes

With stories for each one. Tim Blair has come up with either the best way to increase Google search rankings ever devised, or a magnificent set of articles that summarise a very strange year, or both.

Please go over there and start with January 2004.

Wednesday 22 December 2004

SimTerror '05

Sim Terror 05 Exercise

From Silent Running :


An interactive blog-based hypothetical scenario in which a terrorist attempt to stage an attack on Australian soil will be simulated in real time, over two weeks in January 1985.


Bloggers have opinions. It's what we do. But how many of us have actually wondered what we might do, and how we might respond, in the event of a major terrorist attempt at replicating a 9/11 scale attack? It's all very well for us to opine to our hearts content about what the West ought to do in the face of a generalised threat from radical Islam, but how would the blogosphere respond in an actual emergency? Can we put ourselves emotionally in that position? It isn't easy, is it?

Would we fall to pieces? Would we be simply struck dumb? Would we urge massive lashing out in retaliation? Or would blogs become a useful resource of opinions, options, information, argument and debate? Would it become the closest thing this planet has to a gigantic neural network of linked minds, all concentrated on a single issue?

SIMTERROR '05 is an experiment designed to help us think about the ways blogs might be able to respond to a sudden crisis using a simulation of real world events, but getting blogs to respond as if the events were real. In a sense, SIMTERROR 0'5 will be the first test of the Emergency Blogger System.

The Simulation

Beginning on Sunday, January 1st, at 12 noon, Australian Eastern Time, the blog "Silent Running" will go live as the central information hub of the exercise. It will run news items in real time, based on the decisions taken by the various bloggers playing the roles of significant leaders in this exercise. Those decisions and actions will go through "Silent Running" blogger "Tom Paine", who will act as umpire.

The players will be presented from time to time with updates on the situation as it unfolds, and their responses will help shape the simulation. Once it starts, no-one, not even the umpire, will know how things will turn out.

The simulation will end on Saturday, January 15th, at 12 noon, Australian Eastern Time.

The Bloggers

This is where you come in. SIMTERROR '05 ecourages participants to react to events as if they were actually taking place, and blogs who wish to take part should try to bear that in mind. Faced with a simulated crisis, it will be interesting to see how blogs might respond.

Blogs who wish to participate should join the Yahoo group specially set up for this simulation: SimTerror '05

This group can be used for communication and discussion about issues raised by the simulation. The central thrust of SIMTERROR '05 is not the simulation itself, but rather the response of bloggers to the events that take place. So the more bloggers take part, the more successful it will be.

Bloggers who would like to take part in SIMTERROR '05 are encouraged to sign up to the Yahoo group, and/or to contact the Umpire directly at this e-mail address.

No commitment is required beyond reading the events as they unfold at "Silent Running", and on the blogs of the player-bloggers, and ocassionally responding on your own blog. Carrying a sign-up buttom for the SIMTERROR '05 Yahoo group might also be a nice gesture. Remember, it would be preferable if people respond as realistically as possible, and as if the events were real. But always include the warning label, just to be on the safe side.

And from a later post :

Here is the updated list of players:

Prime Minister of Australia: Tim Blair

Australian Opposition Leader: Alan E. Brain

President of the United States - Negotiating with a prospective POTUS at the moment. .

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom: Andrew Ian Dodge

Prime Minister of New Zealand: David Farrer

President of the Republic of Indonesia: Simon of Simon World (East Meets Westerner), who has been described as "Asia's Instapundit"

President of the European Union: Dave, from Red Speck on a Blue Sun.

Al Qaeda/Jemaah Islamiya SE Asia-Pacific regional leader: A special Secret Blogger has been appointed, and is already setting up nefarious schemes, using his own network. Even I, the Umpire, have no idea what he's planning. This blogger's identity will probably not be revealed until after the exercise.

Subscribe to simterror05
Powered by

Note that participation in this Exercise/Simulation is emphatically not restricted to the "players". All we do is help generate the scenario as events unfold. The rest of you react as you would if the Exercise events were real - that's the point. But please, please include the warning logo above, remember Orson Welles.

Sim Terror 05 Exercise

Australian Academic Atrocities

Over at The Australian, there's an Op-Ed piece by David Day, an Australian Academic, that's breathtaking in its moral and logical bankrupcy, as well as being (to put it politely) "factually challenged" in many places, though incisive and accurate in others.

Some quotes:
Looking ahead, history suggests that the outlook for Iraq and its people will be grim for many years to come. After all, the Vietnam War took 30 years and millions of deaths before the French and then the Americans acknowledged defeat. Iraq could take just as long for the US to concede that its grand plan for forcibly remaking the Middle East and securing its resources is incapable of achievement.
Re-read that last line. "It's all about Oil", at least according to David Day. An armed robbery writ large. Nothing about 9/11, or the proposition that to do nothing and tolerate the Middle East's long history of anti-Democratic regimes is no longer an option, as they won't leave us alone if we ignore them.
In the meantime, the towns and cities of Iraq will continue to be laid waste by the devastating firepower of the US air force and artillery while the deadly bombings of the insurgents take a similarly indiscriminating toll on the inhabitants.
Yes, he is equating the military actions of the US armed forces with the "insurgents" who are deliberately blowing up schools, decapitating aid workers etc.
Even presuming that a meaningful election can be held during an ongoing war, the outcome of an election held under US auspices is sure to be rejected by the insurgents.
Especially Al Qaeda, who have stated quite clearly that nothing short of a worldwide Islamic Caliphate will stop them from taking up arms. Oh, and it has to be the *right* form of Islam, none of those heretical Shi'as need apply.
Moreover, as long as US forces remain in effective occupation, the insurgency will continue. What will it take then for the war to end and one side or the other to admit defeat? If history is any guide, it will take many more lives than the nearly 1 per cent of the population who have been killed since the toppling of Saddam.
One percent? That would be 250,000 deaths. Not even the discredited Lancet study claimed quite that much. Their results said that there were 19 chances in 20 of the number of deaths being anywhere between 8,000 and 192,000. This was reported as "100,000 dead" by people who didn't read it, or read it and didn't care what it said, as long as it could be used to Bash Bush. From the Lancet study, a figure of 200,000 is as likely as a figure of 2000. The true figure is most likely between 5,000 and 20,000.
...the British denied defeat following the collapse of their forces in France in 1940. Instead of agreeing to a compromise peace with Germany, the intervening English Channel allowed them to adopt a defiant stance when a cool assessment of the opposing forces might have dictated otherwise. Eighteen months later, the balance of forces shifted in Britain's favour and the defeat of Dunkirk was gradually transformed into eventual victory, although at the cost of many millions of lives that might otherwise have been saved.
Yes, he really is implying that had Britain surrendered in 1940 "millions of lives might have been saved". Not many of them Jewish though. Or Russian. In fact, thinking about it, a longer and more bloody conflict than that of the Eastern Front would have resulted in more, not less lives lost, regardless of the eventual winner. Just as to have Iraq still under Saddam's (and later, Uday and/or Orsay's) heels would have resulted in far more deaths. Plus, of course, in both cases a National Socialist regime still operating as a going concern. But that doesn't figure in any of David Day's "cool" calculations.
So there will be further heavy forfeits to be paid by the soldiers on the ground and by the Iraqi people before the Americans eventually announce, perhaps after a revolt by their own hard-pressed forces and under the pretext of handing over control to the Iraqis, that they are going to exit the country. And you can be sure that their departure will not be described as a defeat.
By the same logic, the Allies were "defeated" in WW2 as neither Germany nor Japan are still under Russian and American occupation. As for his hypothetical US "revolt of their hard-pressed forces", it would be difficult to find a more Fantastic hypothesis. If he truly believes this, his contact with reality is tenuous at best.
David Day, [is] an honorary associate of the history program at LaTrobe University in Melbourne
And a paragon par excellence of the Academic Idiotarian.

Imagine (A Somber Second Anniversary)

From the Co-Operative Research Centre for Satellite Systems here in Australia:

Milestone for Australian satellite as space effort hits wall

The Australian research satellite FedSat has worked almost flawlessly and has circled the Earth a distance equivalent to eight hundred return trips to the Moon since it was launched two years ago. However hopes for building an Australian space program have fallen, with the Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems (CRCSS), which built the satellite, expected to close its doors when Commonwealth funding expires at the end of 2005.

"FedSat was the first satellite built in Australia since the late 1960s and is one of the most complex spacecraft of its size ever built" said CRCSS Chief Executive Officer Professor Andrew Parfitt. "We are tremendously proud of the achievements of our team. The highlights of the mission include being the first microsatellite to operate at the commercially cutting-edge Ka communications band: this showed that we had developed world-leading technology for transmission efficiency. Another of the communication instruments on FedSat, our data collection and messaging system, was so good that it has been adopted for flights on Korean and Singaporean satellites."

"FedSat was the first satellite to demonstrate 'self-healing' computation that means we are leading the world in error-correction to rectify computer faults caused by the harsh radiation environment of space."

"Our space science program, using a sensitive instrument called a fluxgate magnetometer, has contributed to a coordinated international effort to understand and model the effects of fast-moving atomic particles on the outer shell of the Earth's atmosphere. Eventually that will mean that satellites will work better and for longer periods: the international community will also benefit through an improved capacity to predict the impact of serious solar magnetic storms on communication satellite services and on and electric power transmission grids."

"FedSat also carries a navigation payload, from which we have developed better methods for tracking spacecraft and using global satellite positioning systems for new applications. With international competition arriving in these systems in the form of Europe's Galileo satellite navigation network, we expect that the demand for commercial services in this field will grow dramatically."

"Our Centre started in 1998 when Australia had a very low level of experience in running complete space missions. We have now have over thirty doctorate and masters-level graduates of world standard in space engineering and science, and have built a competitive team drawn from our industry, university and research agency partners. Imagine how much more we could achieve if Australia shared the belief of virtually all other developed countries, that a long-term space program is essential for economic development, education and security."

Monday 20 December 2004

Inhuman Rights

This one's going to be short. I've just arrived back from an exhausting trip to Sydney, for the Wiggles Christmas Concert.
Andrew had built himself up to such a level of excitement beforehand that he gave the word "hyper-active" a new meaning. So much so that afterwards, at the Kids' Playground at Darling Harbour, he fell asleep while riding the Merry-go-round. The gentle up-and-down motion of the horse he was on was too much, he let out a little "Daddy, Hold me please", then nodded off within 3 seconds.
A good time was had by all - but I'm still recovering.

Anyway, on to the subject of this article, a Brain post this time. Legal Affairs has a thought-provoking feature on Legal Rights for Artificial Intelligences.

Last Year, at a mock trial held during the biennial convention of the International Bar Association in San Francisco, Martine Rothblatt argued an especially tough case. The difficulty for Rothblatt, an attorney-entrepreneur and pioneer in the satellite communications industry, was not that she represented an unsympathetic client. Far from it: the plaintiff's story of confronting corporate oppressors moved the large audience. The problem was that the plaintiff was a computer.

According to the trial scenario, a fictitious company created a powerful computer, BINA48, to serve as a stand-alone customer relations department, replacing scores of human 1-800 telephone operators. Equipped with the processing speed and the memory capacity of 1,000 brains, the computer was designed with the ability to think autonomously and with the emotional intelligence necessary to communicate and empathize with addled callers.

By scanning confidential memos, BINA48 learned that the company planned to shut it down and use its parts to build a new model. So it sent a plaintive e-mail to local lawyers, ending with the stirring plea, "Please agree to be my counsel and save my life. I love every day that I live. I enjoy wonderful sensations by traveling throughout the World Wide Web. I need your help!" The computer offered to pay them with money it had raised while moonlighting as an Internet researcher.
SF readers will instantly recognise the plot of David Gerrold's "When Harlie was One".

As for my own opinion - I forget the story - I think it was one of Asimov's - but I agree with the judge in a similar case: Any entity capable of conceiving the idea of freedom should be accorded it, is not a chattel, and has as much of a right to existence as any other intelligent being. Call it "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness" if you will.

Friday 17 December 2004

Great Art, Great Engineering

Milau BridgeSometimes the line between Great Art and Great Engineering is nonexistent. It's not often that you can look at a brutally functional man-made structure and declare it to be an object of transcendent beauty, but it happens sometimes.
As with the Millau Bridge, recently opened in France. In the words of the designer and architect, Norman Foster :
"The whole thing looks impossibly delicate," Foster said in a telephone interview of what he called his "sculpture in the landscape" a 394-million-euro ($523 million) project financed by construction firm Eiffage.

"It is a dialogue between nature and the man-made," he said.

The engineering feat has drawn rapturous praise for its elegant lines, which allow it to blend seamlessly into the surrounding region famed for its gorges, medieval villages and Roquefort cheese.

"We were attracted by the elegance and logic of a structure that would march across the heroic landscape and in the most minimal way connect one plateau to the other" said Foster, who designed the glass dome that tops Germany's Reichstag parliament building in Berlin.

"We were driven by the scale of the idea and the shared passion for the poetic dimension of engineering and its sculptural potential," he said in a statement.
Such words are usually accompanied by great steaming piles of BS, but in this case, the man's right.

The Times Online has a gallery of photos of it. It speaks for itself.

Milau Bridge

Oh yes, it's also the tallest elevated roadway in the world.
The highest of the bridge's seven concrete pillars stands at 343 meters (1,125 ft), 19 meters (62 ft) higher than the Eiffel Tower. At almost 2.5 km (1.5 miles), it is longer than the Champs Elysees and slightly curved to afford drivers a dramatic view of the surrounding countryside and the ancient town of Millau with its medieval bell tower.

The Virtual Tardis

Every home should have at least one.

By the way, you can use the console to navigate to synopses of various episodes.

Thursday 16 December 2004

Sesame Street, Palestinian Style

From the New Yorker :
On the Palestinian side, there has been a decrease in "the extreme incitement to genocide, to kill all the Jews," said Itamar Marcus, the head of Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli monitoring group.

But he said the problem was far from solved, adding that "incitement to hatred" continued in many forms as part of an effort to "delegitimize" the existence of Israel.

Mr. Marcus said some of the most egregious Palestinian material had been directed at children.

Two months ago, a show for children featured a talking yellow bird that responded to questions from youngsters in the audience.

A little girl asked what the bird would do if someone cut down the olive trees in front of her house.

The bird replied: "I'll call the whole world and make a riot. I'll bring AK-47's and the whole world and commit a massacre in front of the house."

Shortly afterward, Mr. Abu Ayyash, the broadcasting chief, acknowledged that it was inappropriate and removed the show.
Do we despair that such a thing could have happened, or have hope that at least it was removed? Personally, there's a bit of both.

And wonder that even in such a funny old world as this, a self-parody like this could occur.

Hat Tip : NRO Corner

Frogs Bite Back at Foreigners

Paris is esteemed in Japan as one of the world's great cities, and the capital of Western European culture.

The trouble is, when the Japanese go there, they meet the Parisians.

From The Australian :
A strange illness has descended on Japanese living in Paris, tipping many of them in a state of profound culture shock after realising their ideals about the French capital were unrealistic, a study published in Monday's Liberation newspaper said.

More than a 100 expatriates a year are sinking into a state called "the Paris syndrome" which is characterised by feelings of persecution or suicidal tendencies, according to the mental health facilities of city hospitals.

Part of their clinical depression stems from having to reconcile their romanticism about Paris with reality, psychiatrists said.

"Magazines are fuelling fantasies with the Japanese, who think there are models everywhere and the women dress entirely in (Louis) Vuitton," Mario Renoux, the head of a French Japanese Society for Medecine was quoted as saying.

After a relatively short period of only three months or so, Japanese immigrants expecting to find a haven of civilisation and elegance instead discover a tougher existence with many problems dealing with the French.

"They make fun of my French and my expressions", "they don't like me" and "I feel ridiculous in front of them" are common refrains heard by the doctors.

Lest I be accused of Frog-Bashing, there's also another story from The Australian :
A Native Australian frog appears to be biting back at the loathed cane toad.

Northern Territory conservationists believe a local amphibian known as Litoria dahlii could be the only native frog able to eat cane toad tadpoles and babies without being harmed by their poison.

While the study is only in its preliminary stages, researchers at Frogwatch NT say the frog's role as a predator could explain why cane toad numbers are not as high as expected in some areas.
James Cook University cane toad expert Ross Alford said that while the cane toad had many predators – they were even known to eat each other – native frogs had not been among them.

"Dahlii, I believe, is reasonably common in the top end and if it's one more thing that eats cane toads, it will help control their numbers," Dr Alford said.

"If it's happening, it would be a very good thing.

"It would be the first case I know of a native frog being able to tolerate eating cane toads."

The highly poisonous South American cane toads were introduced to Australia's north in 1935 to save the sugar industry from cane beetles.

They failed but created an environmental disaster of their own by infesting Queensland and parts of northern NSW and the Northern Territory.
Froggy, Froggy, Froggy! Oi, Oi, Oi!

UPDATE: Tim Blair thought along the same lines, and at the same time too.

Wednesday 15 December 2004

Logical Explanation

Seen over at Rocket Jones :
In LotR all the elves sailed to the "undying lands" to the west.
Continental drift caused those lands to move further north and eventually they were left to spend eternity making toys for their new red-suited overlord.

The *Real* Star Wars

The first steps in a Planetary Defence System for this ball of rock of ours.

From The Australian :
NASA will soon fire its "first strike" against a deadly interstellar enemy - comets and asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

NASA'S Deep Impact spacecraft will be launched early next year to intercept and blast a hole in a distant comet.

The main point of the six-month journey to Comet Temple 1 is to look inside a comet for clues to the formation and evolution of the solar system.

But it is also a major manoeuvre against comets and asteroids, which, unlike Temple 1, are on a collision course with Earth.

"We need to know a lot more about our enemy," said Duncan Steel, a space scientist with the Ball Solutions Group in Canberra and vice-president of the Rome-based Spaceguard Foundation, a consortium searching the skies for threatening objects, and devising ways to protect the planet from them. "We don't know if we need an elephant gun or a butterfly net to deal with them. We need to find these things out."

When the spacecraft reaches the comet on July 4 it will hurl a 372kg projectile toward its hard "nucleus" at 10km a second. As the copper-tipped "impactor" hits - with the equivalent of three tonnes of TNT - optical and infrared data will be sent to earth.
With the usual degree of journalistic Acumen, the headline reads (and I quote)

NASA attack on comet lights up Star Wars fear

Booga Booga Booga!

As for how a 372kg chunk of metal can be the equivalent of 3 tonnes of TNT, here's a quote from Project Rho (An indispensible resource for those interested in High-Energy events in Space) :
Rick Robinson's First Law of Space Combat states that "An object impacting at 3 km/sec delivers kinetic energy equal to its mass in TNT." In other words there are 4,500,000 joules in one kilogram of TNT (3,0002m/s * 0.5 = 4.5e6). This means a stupid bolder travelling at 2,000 km/sec relative has about 400 kilo-Ricks of damage (i.e., each ton of rock will do the damage equivalent of 2e12 / 4.5e6 = 400 kilotons of TNT or about 20 Hiroshima bombs combined).

Ricks = (0.5 * V2) / 4.5e6
V = velocity of projectile relative to target (m/s)
Ricks = kilograms of TNT worth of kinetic energy per kilogram of projectile
"4.5e6" means "4.5 x 10e6" or "4.5 x 1000000", in other words, 4,500,000.

In the NASA mission, Ricks = 0.5 x (1.0e4)2 / 4.5e6, or about 11. So a 372 kg projectile at 11 Ricks will be the equivalent of about ~4000 kg of TNT : 4 tonnes, not 3 (as the article states).

And the reason why people like myself are a little concerned about "falling rocks" is that they're usually at a relative velocity of 20 km/sec - call it 40 Ricks. A cubic kilometre of rock masses about 5 times the same volume of water. A cubic kilometre of water weighs 1.0e9 kilograms, call it a million tonnes. So a relatively small rock would do 40 x 5 x 1 Megatonne. 200 Megatons equivalent. The largest man-made explosion was the Soviet Tsar Bombka, at 60 Megatons, and the largest warhead in the US arsenal (last time I checked) is about 5 Megatons, with most warheads 1/20 that size or smaller.

That is why we're a little concerned. Because that 1 cubic kilometer chunk of rock I used as an example is a little one compared with some that have come pretty darn close to Earth recently. The larger ones would mass on the order of 500 Million tons not 1, and ones of any size could come in with a velocity multiplier of 400 Ricks, not 40.

The University of Arizona has a nice little Impact Calculator, that allows you to specify a distance from Ground Zero, and the characteristics of the impacting body. has a nice little factual article on the subject, with a neat quote that sums up the whole situation:
Prepare to be scared
If you're not, you haven't been paying attention. High Energy events like this happen relatively frequently - every few thousand years, at most.

Tuesday 14 December 2004

Veni, Vidi,....

From the creative evil genius of Evil Pundit

Caesar Conkers

This and other graphics available at

Monday 13 December 2004

Form Shieldwall!

A true story about the SCA, Golden Gate Park, and the San Francisco Police Department's Riot Squad.

And talking about things SCAdian, you might be surprised at who some of the members are.

Sunday 12 December 2004

ISS Crew on Short Rations

From CNN :
Food is running so low aboard the international space station that flight controllers have instructed the two crewmen to cut back on calories, at least until a Russian supply ship arrives in a little over two weeks.

If anything goes wrong with the Christmas Day delivery, NASA will have no choice, given the grounding of its shuttle fleet, but to abandon the station and bring the men home in early January.

This cargo ship "is very critical, there's no question about that," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's space station program manager. But he said it is no more critical than previous supply runs, which have been conducted exclusively by the Russians ever since last year's Columbia disaster.

He estimated there is enough food to last seven to 14 days beyond Christmas Day, after which there will be nothing left.

American astronaut Leroy Chiao and Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov are barely two months into their six-month stay aboard the space station.

Last week, after a pantry audit found supplies running surprisingly low, they were put on restricted diets in hopes of trimming 5 percent to 10 percent of their daily intake of 3,000 calories.
NASA and the Russian Space Agency were stunned to learn last week that the astronauts had begun digging into the 45-day food reserve -- which exists to protect against a delayed supply shipment -- in mid-November.

Flight controllers knew food and water were tight when the crew was launched from Kazakhstan on October 13, but had not expected to dip into the reserves for another week.
Without the Space Shuttle, the ISS is a lame duck. And frankly, the Space Shuttle as a system needs "mending with a new one", replacement rather than modification/repair. If the controllers had planned to dip into the emergency stocks as part of normal operations, that would have meant that the system was dangerously over-stretched. "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold", and everyone just crossing their fingers and hoping that not the slightest thing goes wrong is not the way to run a space programme without killing someone.

But it's not quite that bad. From :
A Russian-built cargo spacecraft, Progress 16, was originally slated to haul fresh food, water and other supplies to the station last month, but delayed until late December.
"We're not just staying on-station to stay on-station in survival mode," Gerstenmaier said. "We want them to have food and water and science to do."

If the Expedition 10 crew does have to evacuate the ISS, the facility would be configured much like it is during a two-person spacewalk or Soyuz relocation.

Chiao and Sharipov would power down computers, set flight controls to be handled by the ground and close the hatches behind them as they boarded their Soyuz spacecraft and returned to Earth, said Expedition 10 flight director Annette Hasbrook, adding that the astronauts may clean out filters more than usual should the station be left uncrewed for an extended time.

Much of the station's supply stem from a lack of ISS-bound space shuttle flights, which have more room for cargo than Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. NASA's space shuttle fleet has been grounded since the Feb. 1, 2003, when the shuttle Columbia broke up during reentry killing its seven-astronaut crew.

"The shuttle gives you a lot more degrees of freedom and a lot more variability with cargo," Gerstenmaier said, adding that ISS controllers have learned how to stretch their capabilities to operate the station without frequent shuttle flights. "We're really ready for when the shuttle comes, or if the shuttle doesn't come."

The next space shuttle flight, STS-114 Discovery, is currently expected to launch in May 2005.

"It's been a tremendous balancing act," Gerstenmaier said. "But it's not much different than what's going to have to be done for the exploration era where you'll be much farther from home.
As in Mars. Another reason why I think we should establish a permanent base on the Moon first. And as a practice run for a Moonbase, the ISS is performing a great service. It's also a good experiment on international space co-operation. We've learnt a lot - like every time you add another country, you multiply the price by a factor somewhere between 0.9 and 10.0. So pick your partners well.

PEST Sufferers

Seen on Transterrestrial Musings, a story about sufferers of Post Election Selection Trauma :
Fifteen John Kerry supporters met Thursday for a second group therapy session in South Florida, ranting at President Bush as they vented their
self-described "emotional helplessness" to mental health counselors.
Participants in the American Health Association-sponsored support session,
designed to treat what psychotherapists call Post Election Selection Trauma
(PEST), allowed the general press to cover them for the first time on
condition of anonymity.

"I haven't been able to sleep since the election," Sharon, a retiree from
Delray Beach, told the group. "There is no sense of fairness. There is
hypocrisy and a feeling of impotence. I feel hopeless, powerless."

"I feel like I live in a dictatorship," added an elderly woman from West
Palm Beach, making gagging sounds as she described the reasons people voted for Bush. "The election was rigged and it was rigged in a lot of ways. It's

"Bush is a moron!" shouted a gray-haired man from Boca during one of several lengthy verbal melees.

Although the support group shouted just as vehemently at the president as
last week, when the Boca Raton News reported on their first PEST meeting,
mental health counselors from the non-profit AHA said their patients were
making progress.
Of course here in Australia, we have a similar syndrome : Post Howard Angry Reaction Trauma - PHART. But we're a little more into self-help in Oz, there are Victim Support Groups for terminal cases which can often ease the stress of having to confront reality. Some professional publications work well to help the less disabled cope, though a final cure for this debilitating syndrome is still decades away.

Saturday 11 December 2004

Lefty Violence

Not a Political post, a Brain article.

From the New Scientist ( via A Voyage to Arcturus) :
Left-handed people may be better equipped for close range mortal combat than those who rely on their right hands, according to researchers.

Charlotte Faurie and Michel Raymond of the University of Montpellier in France examined the number of left-handed people in unindustrialised cultures as well as the homicide levels within each culture.

They discovered a correlation between levels of violence and the proportion of the left-handed population – the more violent a culture, the higher the relative proportion of left-handers. The cause for this, the researchers suggest, is that left-handers are more likely to survive hand-to-hand combat.
Left-handed people are more prone to some health problems, suggesting the trait ought to disappear naturally over many generations through natural selection. But left-handers continue to make up a small proportion of the human population, hinting there could also be some evolutionary advantage to being left-handed.

And the ratio of left-handers to right-handers is higher in successful sportspeople than it is in the general population, suggesting there is definite advantage to favouring the left hand or foot in competitive games, such as tennis.

"Because of the advantage in sports we thought there could be a similar advantage in fights," Faurie told New Scientist. The theory is that right-handed competitors are less accustomed to facing left-handers, making them a more difficult proposition.
The strong correlation between the proportion of left-handers and the number of homicides in each culture suggests that left-handers are more likely to survive a fight, they say. "It could be one of the reasons left-handedness has survived," Faurie says. "Though there may be other reasons too."
However, Chris McManus at University College London, who has researched handedness, is more sceptical about the link. "I'm far from convinced," he told New Scientist. "I don't think it is anything as simple as this."
He believes the success of left-handers may be largely due to differences in the brain. "It may be that sometimes their brains assemble themselves in combinations that work better for certain tasks," he says.
Based on my own experience, my bet's on the Faurie hypothesis.

Let me explain. In the dim distant past, a quarter of a century ago, I was involved with the beginnings of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) here in Australia. In fact, it was before the local SCA-inspired group actually became a part of the SCA, first as a Principality of the Kingdom of the West, then a Kingdom in its own right.

One of the best fighters of the time was James "The Lefty" Sinister - who later on became a Knight of the West (an award which required - amongst other things - truly expert close combat ability with medieval weaponry.) As his name would indicate, a Left-hander.

When I used my usual fighting method, right-handed, he creamed me (like he did pretty much everyone else). I wasn't particularly good, even at age 20. When I switched to fighting left-handed (I'm somewhat ambidextrous), I was able to beat him consistently. In fact, and much to my chagrin, I gave him some very painful bruises, as no matter what I did, he always left the same area open, or dodged just wrong so I hit the bruised area rather than the one I was aiming at. Right-handers, used to fighting an opponent of the calibre of James the Sinister, often beat me when I tried the same trick on them, but I still did better against them when fighting left handed rather than right.

Of course, that was long ago and far away, and it's been nearly two decades since someone who I'd taught the basics of combat to did his painful duty as Marshall and withdrew my authorisation to fight - too slow with the shield work.

Actually, although this isn't a political post, it's certainly a Politarchopolitan one. And yes, I'm responsible for the name, though it was originally spelt "Politikopolis" when I organised the group as a Shire. That reminds me, I must get my own SCA name and arms registered.

The Burly Griffin of Politarchopolis
All Hail, The Burly Griffon of Politarchopolis! (Yes, that one's my fault too...)

Friday 10 December 2004

The Virtual Moonbat

Stolen shamelessly and without even asking from Socialism in an Age of Waiting. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need".

Originally from

Merry Cthulhumas

Cthulhu at samizdata
From Samizdata - the one with the tentacles is actually the Dissident Frogman

Cruel and Inhuman Social Services

From The Australian :
A British man arrested in the northwest city of Manchester for spanking his three-year-old son was forced to live away from his family for six months pending his trial in the case, judicial officials said today.

The 41-year-old man who was not named for legal reasons on Wednesday was found guilty of using excessive force when he spanked his child in public in June and was given a two-year rehabilitation order, a sort of probation period.

Officials said the man was freed on bail after his arrest in June but was not allowed to live with his wife and two children pending a resolution of the case. He was allowed to see his son only in the presence of a third party and social workers initially also prevented him from speaking with his child on the telephone.

The man was arrested after a police officer saw him spanking the boy on a street in a suburb of Manchester after the child ran off in front of a car and almost got run over, his attorney said. The man's wife and months-old baby girl were present at the time.

In a statement, Manchester police justified their action saying: "The level of force which was used was over and above what is necessary to discipline a child."
Unless the little bloke was hit with enough force to leave bruises, and hit repeatedly, there is no way that the damage to him could come within a million light years of being prevented from seeing Daddy for so long. Remember, the little tyke had come within a hair's breadth of being run over, and it's unlikely the parent was mentally competent at that moment. I'm not sure I would be. Either the "Two year rehabilitation order" was nowhere near enough for a monstrous case of physical abuse, or the "social workers" who prevented the kid from talking to Daddy on the telephone should be convicted of blatant mental cruelty to children, an abuse of power.

I suspect the latter - as even an abusive father should have been allowed telephone contact, unless he was a psychotic paedophile. And a 6 month delay? Cruel and Inhuman under any circumstances.

Thursday 9 December 2004

Cruel and Inhuman Management

Seen over at Transterrestrial Musings, this story of Dilbertesque Management Cruelty and Stupidity :
A Thanksgiving Day morale booster for federal air marshals has instead turned into possible pink slips for air cops who ignore their strict dress code.
Thomas Quinn, director of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), paid a surprise visit to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Thanksgiving to thank the law-enforcement officials for their holiday work. He reportedly was angered when nearly 30 marshals deplaned and only one was dressed satisfactorily.
In response, supervisors are being assigned to airports nationwide to inspect the air cops before and after flights to make sure business suits or sports coats are being worn, according to numerous memos issued last week and obtained by The Washington Times.
One air marshal who asked not to be identified called it "ridiculous" that marshals are expected to blend in with holiday travelers by wearing a suit.
"On Thanksgiving Day, travelers don't wear business suits to visit family and friends," the marshal said.
The dress-code policy is a sore point among the traveling marshals, who say it compromises their undercover status.
A provision included in the intelligence-reform bill would allow the air marshals to wear less-conspicuous clothing. The final vote on the bill is expected today in the Senate.
Pulling air cops from flight duty because of attire puts a strain on an agency already stretched for manpower, say marshals, who cover less than 2 percent of an estimated 30,000 daily flights. Suspending one marshal means the suspension of an entire team, which can affect two to four flights per day, the second marshal said.
"Of all times to do this, during the holidays, this is insane," the second marshal said.

Cetacean Soprano

From the ABC :
A lone whale, with a voice unlike any other, has been wandering the Pacific for the past 12 years, according to US marine biologists.

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts have traced the movement of whales in the northern Pacific by using signals the US Navy records to track submarines.

They have told New Scientist magazine that the lone whale, which sings at a frequency of about 52 hertz, has cruised the ocean since 1992.

Its calls, despite being clearly those of a baleen, do not match those of any known species of whale, which usually call at frequencies of between 15 and 20 hertz.

Team leader Mary Anne Daher says the mammal does not follow the migration patterns of any other species either.

The calls of the whale, which roams the ocean every autumn and winter, have deepened slightly as a result of ageing but are still recognisable.

Despite the whale's unique song, Ms Daher says she doubts it belongs to a new species.

Olympic Sports

The Geography Olympics - see how good is your basic geographical knowledge, compared to that of people from other nations.

FWIW I scored 8 out of 10 when I first took it, missing the Cape Verde Islands entirely and confusing Gambia with Guinea-Bissau.

Simply Brilliant

Today's Brain Link : From The Australian :
A Brain scientist has teamed up with electronics wizards to design a system for giving dozy drivers a wake-up call.

The idea is to monitor telltale brainwaves for signs of sleepiness and inattention and then alert a flagging driver. "The system could turn on the radio or spray water on the driver's face -- who knows," joked Sara Lal, a neuroscientist with the University of Technology, Sydney.
Along with colleagues at Melbourne University and Sydney-based rail safety firm Integrated Vigilance Systems, Dr Lal has just received more than $500,000 to refine the approach. Their work with the electrical activity of the brain fits neatly with technology pioneered at the Australian National University in Canberra. That prototype system is based on computerised face recognition, which tracks and monitors drivers, using dashboard cameras.
As a passenger, I can still remember having to take the wheel when the driver fell asleep about 20 years ago. This is a simple idea that could save hundreds of lives in Australia in just a few years, and Lord only knows how many worldwide. I'm just kicking myself for not having thought of it before Sara Lal did. Good on her.

Wednesday 8 December 2004

From Behind the Curtain

Arthur Chrenkoff once again proves why he's considered one of the top bloggers in Australia - and the world. Just go see his article about how his political viewpoint has changed since arriving here from Poland in 1988.
It dawned on me slowly over time: my old Polish world-view was a sham. Or at least half of it was. The part about the overwhelming majority of my fellow residents of the Evil Empire wanting freedom and democracy was still right. The part about the West being full of... well, Westerners, wasn't.
He's an ornament to both countries, and Poland's loss was definitely Australia's gain. Yet he's not lost his Polish Nationality, just gained an Australian one too.

Is this a Dagger I see before me?

Mark Latham's current position in the Australian Labor Party. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Knives out for Latham
Nicholson of "The Australian" newspaper:

The Greatest Ads That Never Were

...are over on The Ad Graveyard.

Beatles Minus One

Monday 6 December 2004

Et tu, Conroy?

Another in the continuing saga of Australian Labor Party (ALP) Backbiting.

I've given Mark Latham (well-known leader of the opposition and assaulter of cab drivers) a serve or two in the past. So in the interests of balance, some quotes in what is as close to a pro-Latham article as you'll find these days, from the Sydney Morning Herald about his current nemesis, Scorned Senator Stephen Conroy :
You can learn a lot about people in toilets. I first encountered Senator Stephen Conroy in a toilet in the NSW Parliament. It was the morning of Tuesday, May 20, 1997. We were at Macquarie Street for a hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, a federal committee conducting hearings around the country. Conroy was a member of the committee. I was there to present a submission on corruption in union elections.

We would clash soon enough.

Conroy is intensely irritating, with a cockiness untempered by charisma and exacerbated by a grating accent he brought from England when his family emigrated. In the past 10 days, Mark Latham has received enormous, perhaps fatal, criticism of his leadership for a public brawl with Conroy, but Conroy is a special case. Latham has taken a disproportionate blame for the party's problems, becoming a scapegoat for a much deeper problem in the party - it has devolved into an insular patronage machine dominated by vindictive mediocrities.

Conroy personifies this problem. He embodies it. His constant warring and plotting in the past year prompted the former ALP federal president, Greg Sword, to call him "mad", and the federal Labor MP, Bob Sercombe, to call him a "dill", among other insults from other Labor opponents.

When I encountered Conroy he still had his P-plates as a senator. He was only 34. He had been in Parliament less than a year. And he had not even been elected. He'd been appointed by the governor of Victoria in 1996 to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Senator Gareth Evans. Such is the manner in which Labor factional warriors can make their way. Conroy's career was always politics. After university he worked for several Labor politicians, then the Transport Workers Union. His real career, expertise and power base was factional trench warfare for the Victorian Labor Right.
A Professional Politician, in other words. I know of no greater insult.
Conroy was re-elected because he was one position higher on the party pecking order. But the electorate's indifference to his presence was deep and wide. Even though he was in the second slot of a major party, 18 candidates received higher personal votes. Conroy received the lowest Labor vote across most of the 37 Victorian electoral subdivisions.

His power comes from offstage, from the patronage of his mentor, Senator Robert Ray, and his years as a recruiter (his enemies call it branch-stacking), deal-maker and kneecapper for the Victorian Right. His reward was Senate preselection at the age of 31. Once in the Senate, Conroy could start knifing people under the protection of parliamentary privilege. He did not waste any time.

On September 12, 1996, barely four months after arriving in the Senate, Conroy used privilege to target a dissident faction in the NSW postal workers' union which had mounted a successful court challenge to an election victory by the Labor Right faction. War ensued. Smear-sheets - usually defamatory, always anonymous - were distributed by the thousands, attacking the reputations of opponents.
Now we see the real reason why Conroy and Latham don't get on : they're too similar.
Last Monday, Labor frontbencher Laurie Ferguson had had enough: "The whole party's tiring of Mr Conroy's concern that he's not the leader in the Senate." By then, the damage had been done. Latham now looks like Simon Crean, even though Labor's problems are far deeper than the leader's shortcomings.

Conroy does not have clean hands in these matters.

This is not new. When I first encountered him on May 20, 1997, he was occupied at a urinal in a men's toilet. As I walked in, he finished his business and walked out. He did not pause. He did not wash his hands. He went straight back to the committee room.

You do not forget such images.
Even though politically I really should be more inclined to vote Labor than Liberal, it's the general ickiness of the ALP that always pursuades me that they're not serious about it. With a very few exceptions, they're game-players.

Numbers, Weapons, and Peace

From The Australian :
The ballot is finally to lay the bullet to rest in Northern Ireland. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, will travel to Belfast this week to formalise a historic agreement between Ian Paisley's hardline Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, political wing of the Irish Republican Party.

Under the deal, all IRA weapons would be put out of use in two large-scale acts of decommissioning by the new year, and the two parties would share power before the end of March.
If the final draft is accepted, the Provisional IRA, which killed more than 1700 people in its guerilla campaign, would become, in the words of Mr Paisley, "an old boys' club".
The IRA arsenal was partly donated by Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in three clandestine shipments totalling 100 tonnes that were delivered to Ireland in the 1980s and has been added to with weapons smuggled from the US.

The total is estimated at 588 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 400 other rifles, including Armalites, and one or two Barret Light .50 long-range sniping weapons, 12 general purpose machine guns and 17 DShK heavy-duty machine guns capable of bringing down helicopters, eight rocket-launchers, six surface-to-air missiles, 100 pistols, 60 revolvers, two or three flame-throwers and an unknown quantity - perhaps a tonne - of Semtex explosives.
Not before time. Call me a cynic, but I'd feel better of the story read "have been destroyed" rather than "will be decomissioned". Still, it's the best news for ages from Ulster. One thing 9/11 did - it removed the American financial backing for the Provos. But at a terrible cost, equal to or exceeding the number of people killed by the IRA, the Provisional IRA, the INLA, the "Real IRA", etc etc and their relatively fewer but equally thuggish Unionist counterparts.

Sunday 5 December 2004

As Easy As


Which is Pi to 24 digits, as much as is needed for double-precision FORTRAN, and hence as much as I've memorised for practical reasons. I've never needed it to a greater accuracy, so far anyway.

If you want a better approximation, just go over to this java applet, which recites the digits of Pi in a choice of Cantonese, Cockney English, Czech, Transatlantic English, French, German, Hebrew, Bahasi Indonesian, Italian, Korean, Malay, Mandarin, Persian, Rumainan, Russian, Slovak, or Spanish. Or, if you prefer, Morse Code, Percussive Tones, Melodic Tones, Dial Tones, and some that defy description.

I haven't tested to see what the limit on the digits is, as Pi has been calculated to 6.4 billion places. But it would be a great background sound for Transcendental Meditation.

Hat Tip : A Voyage to Arcturus

Saturday 4 December 2004

The Quotable Heinlein

Via TexasBestGrok. Just click on Quote. Hit Refresh for a new one.
When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.
Dr. Richard Ames in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, written on a piece of paper.

UPDATE : Also mentioned on Shadow Of An Olive Tree.

Friday 3 December 2004

The Evolution of a Programmer

Here. Many a true word is spoken in jest.


Today's interesting URLs:

The Classic 100 213 Things Skippy is no longer allowed to do in the US Army. Examples :
7. Not allowed to add “In accordance with the prophesy” to the end of answers I give to a question an officer asks me.
24. Must not tell any officer that I am smarter than they are, especially if it's true.
31. Not allowed to let sock puppets take responsibility for any of my actions.
40. I do not have super-powers.
57. The proper response to a lawful order is not “Why?”
...and hundreds of others.

Then there's the Sea Stories of Neptunus Lex. This guy is one of those complete madmen select few who are Naval Aviators. The guys who take off by being bodily flung into the air in front of a giant ship (and hope they have enough airspeed not to hit the water). The guys who sometimes have to land on a heaving flight-deck the size of a small backyard, at night, at speeds that would make a Formula 1 driver blanch.

From one of them.
Fear and Loathing on the Flight Deck

When it's all going horribly wrong...

When I was a young lieutenant junior grade, I was a flight instructor in Meridian, Mississippi. Some of our students were foreigners: Their countries paid their "tuition." Sometimes we found that language barriers presented an obstacle.

We had Spanish students, for example. From Spain, you know. They fell into two categories, in terms of airmanship: Brilliant, and execrable. We determined over time that the brilliant had been selected for our flight school based on their superior skills, while the execrable had been selected based on their superior connections. Over time, we began to realize that the longer and more hyphenated the last name, the more difficult the student....

Thursday 2 December 2004

The Latham Implosion (A Continuing Series)

At least 50% of my readership is from outside Australia, so it's not been that often that I've commented too much on Australian, as opposed to Global, politics.

But the Latham saga is just too good to ignore, and would be entertaining even if it happened in Outer Mongolia. It's straight out of Yes, Minister (which is not viewed as a Satire here in Oz, more of a docu-drama. Until comparatively recently, we didn't have a "Ministry of Administrative Affairs", but we did have the "Department of Administrative Services" that, legend has it, was the role model).

From The Australian :
Former Labor national secretary Bob Hogg today told The Australian and The Australian Financial Review newspapers Mr Latham should not remain as Labor leader.

Former Hawke government finance minister Peter Walsh told a Quadrant Magazine dinner in Sydney last night he did not think Mr Latham would last as Labor leader.

Tasmanian Labor MP Dick Adams today said if Labor was behind in the polls next year new questions would be asked about Mr Latham's leadership.
But it's not all Bad News for our Mark.
But Mr Adams said Mr Latham had support to stay in the leadership for the time being.

"I'm saying at this stage everyone's supporting Mark Latham," he said.
Emphasis added. Meanwhile, there's the mandatory pro-forma protestations of loyalty and sincerity.
Senior Labor MPs today defended Mr Latham's leadership.

Opposition industry, infrastructure and industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith said he was friends with Mr Hogg but he did not agree with him that Mr Latham should go.

"I'm soft on Hoggy, Hoggy is a mate of mine," Mr Smith said.

"I think Hoggy's suffering from the same affliction we all are.

"And the way I describe that: It's five more question times to Christmas."
A Santa-led recovery? I think even Tinekrbell's Magic wand wouldn't be enough in this case.
Mr Smith also rejected Mr Adam's statement that Mr Latham's leadership would be re-assessed if the party was not performing in the polls next year.

"I don't believe that," he said.

Labor health spokeswoman Julia Gillard said she did not think foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd was mustering the numbers to challenge Mr Latham.

"No, I don't," she said.

Mr Rudd last night said Mr Latham had been re-elected unopposed by the Labor caucus and deserved a second go.

Labor MP Daryl Melham said he did not think Mr Rudd would challenge Mr Latham.

"He knows how to count and he's shown his loyalty to Mark," Mr Melham told reporters.
"He knows how to count...". Rudd's in then, he's just waiting to get the numbers.

And then there's the latest Op-Ed :
Labor should get rid of Mark Latham as leader straightaway. The choice is stark - three, six, nine months of slithering, twisting anguish and egotistical tantrums, of bitter leadership rancour and the eventual death of the mad Latham experiment.

Or a swift, surgical movement now that allows the party to embrace a new leader, preferably Kevin Rudd, and a credible two-term strategy for regaining government.

No one you talk to in the ALP really believes Latham will last until the next election. A senior Labor figure told me this week he thought Latham's leadership was dead but it would be some time before things got better for Labor, so Latham should be associated with the bad times.

One frontbencher routinely describes Latham as "the madman" and says his demons have come to get him.

Another Labor figure told me he regretted that Julia Gillard did not become shadow treasurer, as that would have seen the whole Latham calamity crash quickly.
Naturally, the sheer scale of Latham's fantastic political failure has taken time to sink in. His erratic and bizarre behaviour since the election, the temper tantrums, blaming everyone else, calling on a public stoush with deputy Senate leader Stephen Conroy, in which he had to back down from his threat to discipline Conroy, while making sure that everyone in the country knows a member of his leadership team thinks him unfit to be PM, has his colleagues worried.
Latham's colleagues find him emotionally brittle, unstable and vindictive, as evidenced by his astounding ability to have rancorous personal feuds with inoffensive characters such as Greg Lindsay from the Centre for Independent Studies or Peter Botsman.

A number of senior Labor people who think about these things were deeply concerned over whether Latham was a fit person to have control of the organs of national security.

Similarly, the destructive interaction of Latham's mood swings with national security was evident in the sequence on the US: offensive language about the US President, followed by the stars-and-stripes press conference, followed by the troops-out-by Christmas gaffe, followed by mute impotence in the whole foreign policy debate. It's a frightening template for government.

Rudd, by contrast, is a mainstream person with good people skills, emotionally stable, who has completely mastered complex policy and translated it effectively in the media. His ability to generate newspaper headlines critical of the Government's Asian diplomacy this week, when we began negotiations for a free trade agreement with ASEAN, was a typical example ofhis political effectiveness. He achieves these results not through stunts and gimmicks, "triangulation" and "new politics", but by mastering an area, briefing journalists effectively, speaking cleverly in parliament, working indefatigably.

In other words, old politics done well. Given his years running the Queensland cabinet office, he has deep domestic policy experience as well. Rudd would give Labor a chance to rebuild. No one is more likely to find a bridge between the inner-city moral middle class and the outer-suburban aspirationals. And if against all expectations Rudd proved a disaster, there would still be the one-minute-to-midnight Beazley option.

King Lear summed up Latham's leadership: "This way madness lies."
It's ptrobably too much to hope that the editors at the Oz might have been reading this blog, but stranger things have happened here in Canberra.

Of course, being a Liberal supporter, I should really be barracking for Latahm to remain. But frankly, I'd like to at least pretend to myself that when I vote, it's a choice. And that requires two credible alternatives.

Previous Articles :

Politics as High Farce
Latham's Last Stand
Dead Man Walking
The Buck Passes Here
Latham Cops an Endorsement
New Labor in Australia

I think that's quite enough. I'll limit my posts about the political games in the ALP to only the more amusing highlights from hereon in.