Saturday 30 April 2005

Avatars R Us

avatarCourtesy of The Cheese Stands Alone, here's StorTroopers, your one-stop-shop for making an Avatar for chatting.

Available in Conventional, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, and Goth.

Friday 29 April 2005

Pigs Beer in Space!

The Full Details
Will fermentation work the same in weightlessness? What happens to carbonation when there's no buoyancy to bring the bubbles to the top? Can space beer form a proper head? Scientists who study the physics of gas-liquid mixtures would love to know!
Two separate space shuttle experiments tackled these questions....
Only 2?

What Obsolete Skill Are You?

Calliope, Muse of epic poetry
You are 'Latin'. Even among obsolete skills, the
tongue of the ancient Romans is a real
anachronism. With its profusion of different
cases and conjugations, Latin is more than a
language; it is a whole different way of
thinking about things.

You are very classy, meaning that you value the
classics. You value old things, good things
which have stood the test of time. You value
things which have been proven worthy and
valuable, even if no one else these days sees
them that way. Your life is touched by a
certain 'pietas', or piety; perhaps you are
even a Stoic. Nonetheless, you have a certain
fascination with the grotesque and the profane.
Also, the modern world rejects you like a bad
transplant. Your problem is that Latin has
been obsolete for a long time.

What obsolete skill are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Hat Tip : TexasBestGrok

Thursday 28 April 2005

I think they're Underestimating it

From CORDIS News Service :
The European Brain Council (EBC) is recommending a boost in research efforts following the publication of a report stating that 127 million Europeans suffer from brain disorders,
How else to explain George Galloway?

As I wrote to Norm over at Normblog :
I sometimes wonder about how large numbers of voters can support him.

A provincial politician and political hack. Someone who's a millionaire, who's been proven to be at the heart of all sorts of shady oil deals, and a man who insists that deployment of his country's armed forces in Iraq is purely a matter for his own country's voters to decide, and to hell with anyone else, especially the Iraqis.

A man who uses his personal wealth and the full force of the law to crush any opposition to what he says or stands for.

A man who until recently supported the most foul of dictators, and whose words about "Democracy" ring hollow.
All of the faked charges constantly repeated by the Loony Left concerning George Bush have been proven correct about their own current Fuehrer Leader.

Spindle Cells, Consciousness, and the Singularity

This one's a Brain post, and a half.

From a fact article in Asimov's SF Magazine, some quotes to ponder :
Here in the twenty-first century we like to view ourselves as ambulatory brains, plugged into meat-puppets that lug our precious grey matter from place to place. We tend to think of that grey matter as transcendently complex, and we think of it as being the bit that makes us us.

But brains aren’t that complex, Kurzweil says. Already, we’re starting to unravel their mysteries.

"We seem to have found one area of the brain closely associated with higher-level emotions, the spindle cells, deeply embedded in the brain. There are tens of thousands of them, spanning the whole brain (maybe eighty thousand in total), which is an incredibly small number. Babies don’t have any, most animals don’t have any, and they likely only evolved over the last million years or so. Some of the high-level emotions that are deeply human come from these.
Perhaps the definition of "intelligent life" might have to include all animals with spindle cells, and thus the capacity for love, hate, and so on.
Scanning resolution of human tissue–both spatial and temporal–is doubling every year, and so is our knowledge of the workings of the brain. The brain is not one big neural net, the brain is several hundred different regions, and we can understand each region, we can model the regions with mathematics, most of which have some nexus with chaos and self-organizing systems. This has already been done for a couple dozen regions out of the several hundred.
Recent - as in, within the last 20 years - advances in mathematics in the fields of Chaos Theory and Self-organising systems have been crucial in solving many problems, from the behaviour of flocks of birds and schools of fish, to turbulent flow out of a common household tap. We have tools now that enable us to undrestand much of what we could merely observe in the dim, dark and distant past of 1970.
"We have a good model of a dozen or so regions of the auditory and visual cortex, how we strip images down to very low-resolution movies based on pattern recognition. Interestingly, we don’t actually see things, we essentially hallucinate them in detail from what we see from these low resolution cues. Past the early phases of the visual cortex, detail doesn’t reach the brain.
Meanwhile, with Psychology and Psychiatry, most medical schools are still in the "Ju Ju and Witchdoctor" stage, doing the equivalent of bleeding the patients to remove evil humours. Most, but not all. And we now have an arsenal of psychotropic drugs whose effects may be extremely crude, but still effective. The equivalent of amputations to cure gangrene, rather than antispesis and antibiotics. Still more effective than making passes with relics of saints.
"We are getting exponentially more knowledge. We can get detailed scans of neurons working in vivo, and are beginning to understand the chaotic algorithms underlying human intelligence. In some cases, we are getting comparable performance of brain regions in simulation. These tools will continue to grow in detail and sophistication.

"We can have confidence of reverse-engineering the brain in twenty years or so. The reason that brain reverse engineering has not contributed much to artificial intelligence is that up until recently we didn’t have the right tools. If I gave you a computer and a few magnetic sensors and asked you to reverse-engineer it, you might figure out that there’s a magnetic device spinning when a file is saved, but you’d never get at the instruction set. Once you reverse-engineer the computer fully, however, you can express its principles of operation in just a few dozen pages.

"Now there are new tools that let us see the interneuronal connections and their signaling, in vivo, and in real-time. We’re just now getting these tools and there’s very rapid application of the tools to obtain the data.

"Twenty years from now we will have realistic simulations and models of all the regions of the brain and [we will] understand how they work. We won’t blindly or mindlessly copy those methods, we will understand them and use them to improve our AI toolkit. So we’ll learn how the brain works and then apply the sophisticated tools that we will obtain, as we discover how the brain works.
I''ll repeat one bit, one very important bit :
We can have confidence of reverse-engineering the brain in twenty years or so.
But wait, there's more :
But Kurzweil doesn’t think that the future will arrive in a rush. As William Gibson observed, "The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed."

"Sure, it’d be interesting to take a human brain, scan it, reinstantiate the brain, and run it on another substrate. That will ultimately happen."

"But the most salient scenario is that we’ll gradually merge with our technology. We’ll use nanobots to kill pathogens, then to kill cancer cells, and then they’ll go into our brain and do benign things there like augment our memory, and very gradually they’ll get more and more sophisticated. There’s no single great leap, but there is ultimately a great leap comprised of many small steps.
The human brain's "wetware", the physical bits, turns out to be a lot less complex than we'd ever imagined, just as the arrangements and patterns within it are even more complex.
Think about the Mona Lisa. The hardware is just a few pigments, and a vegetable-based fibrous substrate. It's the arrangement of those that's important, not the raw materials.
But we now have a good handle on the raw materials, and are getting better and better at figuring out what the patterns are. Although at the ultimate level of quantum states of individual subatomic particles, to measure is to change what's being measured, that's not important, because our brains are changing in far more massive ways from moment to moment, yet we still retain the illusion(?) of continuity. Another quote:
(Ray Kurzweil speaks) If you follow that logic, then if you were to take me ten years ago, I could not pass for myself in a Ray Kurzweil Turing Test. But once the requisite uploading technology becomes available a few decades hence, you could make a perfect-enough copy of me, and it would pass the Ray Kurzweil Turing Test. The copy doesn’t have to match the quantum state of my every neuron, either: if you meet me the next day, I’d pass the Ray Kurzweil Turing Test. Nevertheless, none of the quantum states in my brain would be the same. There are quite a few changes that each of us undergo from day to day, we don’t examine the assumption that we are the same person closely.

"We gradually change our pattern of atoms and neurons but we very rapidly change the particles the pattern is made up of. We used to think that in the brain–the physical part of us most closely associated with our identity–cells change very slowly, but it turns out that the components of the neurons, the tubules and so forth, turn over in only days. I’m a completely different set of particles from what I was a week ago.

"Consciousness is a difficult subject, and I’m always surprised by how many people talk about consciousness routinely as if it could be easily and readily tested scientifically. But we can’t postulate a consciousness detector that does not have some assumptions about consciousness built into it.

"Science is about objective third party observations and logical deductions from them. Consciousness is about first-person, subjective experience, and there’s a fundamental gap there. We live in a world of assumptions about consciousness. We share the assumption that other human beings are conscious, for example. But that breaks down when we go outside of humans, when we consider, for example, animals. Some say only humans are conscious and animals are instinctive and machinelike. Others see humanlike behavior in an animal and consider the animal conscious, but even these observers don’t generally attribute consciousness to animals that aren’t humanlike.

"When machines are complex enough to have responses recognizable as emotions, those machines will be more humanlike than animals."
Take a look around you. The world in only 20 years time will be quite different, yet remain much the same in many ways. We already have the first prosthetic brain part replacements. In 20 years time, we may have some really good idea of how to go about implementing a human mind on non-biological hardware. Either "copying" an existing one, or making one out of whole cloth.

Science is full of disappointments: things we thought we'd be able to do "in 20 years time" that 20 yeasr later, we find we can't. Lunar bases. The Cure for Cancer. True AI, of the "HAL 9000" variety.

But compared with 20 years ago, many cancers are curable. And getting a lunar base going is not a matter of technology so much as economic priority. The latest programs for playing chess can now beat the best humans (while remaining dumb-as-a-post). In 1985, some of us were struggling with the problems of transferring data internationally via the ARPAnet/Internet. We really believed cerebrally that by 2005, most computers in the planet would be hooked up together, but not vicerally, it seemed too good to be true.

It's just possible that if you, the reader, can hang on for another 30 years without snuffing it, you may be able to get an upgrade to better hardware. Will it be "the same" as you? Not exactly. But it will be closer to the "you" of 2035 than that "you" is to the "you" of today. In fact, it will be closer than the "you" you were when you started treading this article, and the "you" you are now that you've finished reading it.

Close enough.

UPDATE : George Jr has some cogent thoughts on the subject, and writes :
It chimed with some of my recent reading - I've just finsihed Pinker's How the Mind Works and, yesterday, I received a copy of Julian Jaynes's work The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral MInd.

Wednesday 27 April 2005

Miscellanea of the Week

Under the category "Interesting URLs".

Test the Readability of your website. Tracks the Gunning Fog Index that everyone's aware of, plus a few other metrics that are new to me.
Fog Index Resources
6TV guides, The Bible, Mark Twain
8Reader's Digest
8 - 10Most popular novels
10Time, Newsweek
11Wall Street Journal
14The Times, The Guardian
15 - 20Academic papers
Over 20Only government sites can get away with this, because you can't ignore them.
Over 30The government is covering something up
BTW this blog scores 9.17 for Gunning-Fog, 70.44 for Flesch, and 6.02 for Flesch-Kincaid, indicating it should be understandable by all High School students, and many just finishing the 6th grade.

The Real Story behind Apollo 13.
Legler had been present for the Apollo 10 simulation when the lunar module was suddenly in demand as a lifeboat. While some lifeboat procedures had already been worked out for earlier missions, none addressed having to use the lunar module as a lifeboat with a damaged command module attached. Although Legler called in reinforcements from among the other lunar module flight controllers, they were unable to get the spacecraft powered up in time, and the Apollo 10 simulation had finished with a dead crew.

"Many people had discussed the use of the LM as lifeboat, but we found out in this sim," that exactly how to do it couldn't be worked out in real time, Legler says. At the time, the simulation was rejected as unrealistic, and it was soon forgotten by most everyone. NASA "didn't consider that an authentic failure case," because it involved the simultaneous failure of so many systems, explains Hannigan.

But the simulation nagged at the lunar module controllers. They had been caught unprepared and a crew had died, albeit only virtually. "You lose a crew, even in a simulation, and it's doom," says Hannigan. He tasked his deputy, Donald Puddy, to form a team to come up with a set of lifeboat procedures that would work, even with a crippled command module in the mix.
So this was done, and it sure came in handy later. For every quick-fix thought up in a moment of crisis, there were reams of procedures and contingency plans that had to be implemented without delay.

Air is Heavier than we thought.
A 1969 measurement of the level of argon in the air we breathe was too low, according to a team from the Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science and the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France.

Argon is a gas that rarely interacts chemically with anything. The 25-year-old measurement assumed that argon was 0.917 percent of the air's total composition. The new measurement, reported in a recent issue of the journal Metrologia, puts the value at 0.9332 percent.

The other contents of Earth’s atmosphere are nitrogen (78 percent), oxygen (21 percent), water vapor (typically about one percent), and carbon dioxide (0.04 percent). Stuff coming in at below 0.01 percent include neon, helium, methane, hydrogen, nitrous oxide, and ozone.

The new argon results imply that the air is denser by 0.01 percent. Although such a small change would seem to be insignificant, it does affect precision measurements of mass.

And finally....
An outbreak of exploding toads is perplexing residents of Hamburg.

Return of the Dalek

DalekNote the case - singular. Only the one, but, and I quote the BBC,
As episode director Joe Ahearne explained, the Dalek confronted by the Doctor and Rose (Billie Piper) is a monster for a new generation.

"The Daleks of the 1960s and 1970s would not make the grade today," he says. "They would be seen as comical rather than frightening. We couldn't have that."

Stairs have not been a problem for Daleks since 1988, when they first levitated towards Sylvester McCoy in Remembrance of the Daleks.

The new Dalek can also spin its torso independently of his head, so creeping up from behind is no longer an option. Its trademark "sink plunger" attachment also reveals a terrifying new function.
The Mind Boggles. I'm not sure I really want to know the details there.
"We have taken all the perceived weaknesses of the Dalek and made them deadly," says Mike Tucker, the BBC model unit's miniature effects supervisor.
Though not as deadly as SWORDS, the robot (actually a remote piloted vehicle) whose predecessor, the TALON recently saw service in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Fortunately, the New Improved Dalek doesn't sport any advertising stickers. Yet. PepsiCo hasn't picked up on the phrase "A Monster for a New Generation", though I expect it's only a matter of time.

Hat Tip : Tramtown

Tuesday 26 April 2005

Avast, There

A vast amount of data on the state of Piracy in the world, that is. Eaglespeak is your one-stop shop to find out where it's not safe to sail, not even in a supertanker.

Eaglespeak's Eagle Eye has fallen upon this piece of "journalism".
"It's their own fault they were raped", or why according to some twit on the New Straits Times, the ships are sailing around "provocatively dressed".
My advice to those who fear "pirates" in the straits is that they should bypass it; use instead alternative routes like the Straits of Sunda and Lombok or, in future, the proposed pipelines across the Isthmus of Kra.
So what if it costs a few extra million, and takes an extra couple of weeks? Sailing where they are, they're just asking for it, right?

Ijit. At least he's not proposing they go around draped in 10,000 tonne burqas.
Sadly, after 9/11, even myths and half-truths are recycled to feed an angry world for strategic purposes until they become self-fulfilling.

It would not surprise me if a big accident were to be staged in the Straits of Malacca by those with sinister designs to provide evidence, to legitimise fears for their impending threat scenarios.

Indonesia and Malaysia must resist efforts by outsiders to destabilise the strategic waterway. They should not give credence to any self-prophecy with built-in ulterior motives.
Next step, blaming an International Zionist Conspiracy.

Space, Mice, Sleep and Rotten Eggs

From the BBC :
Mice have been placed in a state of near suspended animation, raising the possibility that hibernation could one day be induced in humans.

If so, it might be possible to put astronauts into hibernation-like states for long-haul space flights - as often depicted in science fiction films.
The researchers from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle put the mice in a chamber filled with air laced with 80 parts per million (ppm) of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) - the malodorous gas that gives rotten eggs their stink.

Hydrogen sulphide can be deadly in high concentrations. But it is also produced normally in humans and animals, and is believed to help regulate body temperature and metabolic activity.
Nothing new under the sun? Horse Puckey, we're discovering or inventing new stuff all the time.

Come on, did you suspect that the smell of rotten eggs might one day lead to practical interstellar space travel? So much for Ecclesiastes 1:9-10.

Monday 25 April 2005


Reprinted from The Command Post.

Today, in Australia, it's ANZAC day.

Last years post says it all, and I invite all readers to revisit it.

This one though is dedicated to Lieutenant Matthew Goodall, Royal Australian Navy.

I knew him at ADFA, the Australian Defence Force Academy, merely as Midshipman Goodall, in the late 90's. In the CompSci lab (Universally pronounced Kompski by the students), as with all the officer cadets, I'd peered over his shoulder as he was working, sometimes sitting next to him and explaining a solution, sometimes getting him to write on the whiteboard as the class discussed alternate ways of tackling a problem.

"Well done that man. Next Victim!... Hmmmm.... Midshipman Goodall!"
"Yea!" "Onya Matt!" "Show us how to do it mate!" "Get stuffed the lot of ya!"

Those may not have been the exact words. From memory, he was a pretty laid-back kind of guy, coolly competent, the kind to take banter in his stride. Polite too, a good-natured grin would be more his style, as he did, indeed, show the rest how to do it.

If it was in my power, I'd grant him a Summa Cum Laude, not just for Computer Science, but for something far deeper and more important. Lieutenant Goodall died along with eight others while delivering relief supplies to earthquake victims when the Sea King helicopter they were in crashed in Indonesia recently.

Greater Love Hath No Man...

To me, he'll always be 19 years old, decked out in his dress whites and shorts, cracking the odd joke with the rest of the class, swearing at the bloody machine and tapping away at the keyboard in the lab.

They shall grow not old
as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them
nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.

Onya Matt.

Sunday 24 April 2005

Leunig in The Age

Tim Blair, for his sins, feels beholden to read that great Melbourne paper, The Age.

My own experience of being reported in that paper was a most happy one : the journalist condensed my words, and produced an accurate, pithy article.

Well, just before ANZAC day, the Age printed an article by the well-known and highly-respected cartoonist, Michael Leunig. In my humble opinion, Leunig's work is very uneven, often mediocre, but when he's good, he's one of the best cartoonists of our time, showing great sensitivity, a vast talent, and a keen awareness of the human condition.

He's a thoroughly good human being. So exquisitely good, that on Christmas Eve 2001, barely a hundred days after 9/11, he didn't call for prayers for the victims or their families. I mean, anyone can do that. No, he called for prayers for Osama Bin Laden.

But no prayers for soldiers on ANZAC day, or at any other time. Here's a quote from his article, which confuses the Military with Militarism :
We live in a national culture that glamorises soldiers, yet the sight of a military uniform with its obvious connotations of morbidity and violence provokes in me the question: "What sort of person is attracted to the killing professions?" Army recruiting advertisements beg the same question.

The raising of this query in public will bring hostile responses as well as the inevitable, "If it wasn't for soldiers you wouldn't have the liberty to ask that question", as if I owe my ration of happiness, sanity or spiritual health to militarism.
Where the Prime Minister sees courage, decency and goodness in professional soldiers - all those "best and finest" qualities - I cannot help but also see the possibility of perversity, emotional sickness and a latent murderous impulse. The innocent question won't go away: "What sort of person volunteers to devote their life to the skills of destruction and the business of hunting, trapping and slaughtering humans?"
Soldiers can quickly tire of patriotism and piety in the globalised world. Many become mercenaries now and sell their souls to the highest bidder as hit-men; which may tell us something about what it takes to be a soldier. Iraq is crawling with these lapsed "best and finest" people. No doubt many of those innocent young ADF people in uniform, photographed with the leering, beer-juggling Prime Minister, may in time see the light, take to his private enterprise ideas and move on to the big bucks - to hell with the medals and to hell with the cosy car parks of Gallipoli. At the end of the day, as Socrates said: "All wars are fought for money."
That some people who are good at what they do get seduced by the "Dark Side of the Force" is incontestable: the French Foreign Legion exists, and no-one seriously believes that all who join it do so out of Francophilia.

But let's examine a bit more closely what the "mercenaries" in Iraq are actually doing, and who they're guarding.

Iraq is in great need of repair, or in many cases, greenfields construction of things like hospitals, schools, bridges, clean water supplies, sewaerage, telecommunications, and the industrial and resource infrastructure to support them all.

There are people, often from outside countries, who are doing their best to make sure that Iraqis remain disease-ridden, starving, and poor "for the good of their souls". They do this by beheading people who have the temerity to vaccinate toddlers or build bridges, and do so in propaganda "snuff" movies designed to discourage others.

Hence the need for armed guards.

Now being an armed guard under these circumstances is not exactly risk-free: neither is being a deep-sea salvage diver, or someone who puts out oil fires. All of those examples get paid far more than equivalent occupations (such as security guards at supermarkets) who don't require either the specialised skillset, or run such risks. It's not as if these people are going round massacring the innocent for a buck, a la "Mad Mike" Hoare : it's their opposition who's doing that, and being paid $200 a kill for doing it.

For that matter, there's no suggestion that Mr Leunig wrote this article purely out of the goodness of his heart. I'd be willing to bet long odds that he got paid for it, and paid rather more than someone of lesser skill would. Being fair, I'd also bet long odds that he wouldn't have written it unless he sincerely believed it.

So why can't he give credit to other people, people who might do something they believe in, and still get paid for it? No, only he has a monopoly on virtue, he cannot conceive that anyone of differing opinion might be anything other than a knave, or a dupe.

What sort of people are attracted to the killing professions? Well, Mr Leunig, what type of people are attracted to the Lying professions, like propagandists or cartoonists? Some Cartoonists have helped cause wars, deliberately poisoned societies, and encouraged genocide. You have to ask the innocent question, what type of people do that?

I can tell from personal experience what some soldiers are like though. I taught some at ADFA, the Australian Defence Force Academy. Not as a lecturer, but in the computer science lab, getting to know them as individuals, face to face. Here's what I wrote in reply to the Age about them :
One of (those) who I taught, Midshipman (at the time, later Lieutenant) Goodall, died in a helo crash recently, helping give aid to Indonesians after the recent earthquake.

The kids I taught weren't saints, nor some form of heroic ideal. They were normal but exceptionally bright kids who'd decided that Australia was worth protecting, and that someone had to do it. Just like all the other Australian military volunteers who died of enemy action, accident or disease in all parts of the world, or who returned whole and safe, or shattered in mind and body.
As for cartoonists and other propagandists, "I cannot help but also see the possibility of perversity, emotional sickness, cowardice and a latent desire to abet genocide."

Everyone has the capacity for evil to one degree or another. What Christians call "Sin". Some people fight against it, others sit back and carp.

Some people don't just think that helping those who need it and protecting the weak is a good idea, they actualy put their lives on the line to do it. Others just sit back in "happiness, sanity and in spiritual health", but above all, in safety and smug superiority, and defecate on them.

To do so at any time is bad enough, but could be excused as mere inadvertant insensitivity. To do so immediately before ANZAC day, so as to cause maximum distress, to be so artistic in emotional sadism, now that takes a really great Propagandist.

Not Of My Religion

The Pope that is.

It's not that I'm not Catholic (I'm not - my wife and son are though, and I wouldn't have had Andrew baptised into the Faith if I disagreed too much with its tenets.)

It's not that he's a Nazi (Everyone of that time and place not actually Jewish was enrolled in the Hitlerjugend, and a few who were, it wasn't exactly optional)

It's just that he's a Cat person, and I'm not.

That reminds me - time to put out some food for the black moggie with white socks that has adopted our garden as his home. I'm not a Cat person, but I'm not Fanatical about it.

An Oldie But A Goodie

From An Englishman's Castle, a very old joke (probable pre-Napoleonic era), British Hospitality.

For academics interested in submitting a paper of publication (see previous post) here's the letter you always wanted to write after receiving yet another request for revision.

For those who like Puppy-in-a-blender jokes - and who doesn't? (Me! AEB), here's one that's not particularly work-safe. It's in taste that's not just questionable, it should be put on the rack and seared with hot pincers by the Holy Inquisition. How Many 5-year-olds could you beat in a Deathmatch?. A Very Funny Shock joke turned into a Somewhat Funny Shlock joke, so you have been warned. Good idea, hideous execution.

More of a "see what the Internet has wrought" link than humour as such.


The SimTerror05 Exercise is now ended.

I hope you've found it as instructive reading the posts as I've found it writing them.

For what it's worth, I've got a new respect for the people running our side of the War on Terror, it's not as easy as it looks. And it looks damned hard.

The hardest part of this difficult task was never the "how do we nab the Enemy" bits, it was always "how far can we go and still remain within the bounds of ethics?". Australia ended up being a very different place under "my" regime, and one that frankly alarms me. The Road to Hell is paved with Good Intent.

One thing I think everybody can agree on : that it was a happy day for the country, and indeed the whole world, when I decided not to get into politics.

The Exercise ended with a number of issues still unresolved - but that's like reality too. Anyone who joined the Yahoo Simterror05 mailing list would have gotten some peeks of what went on behind the scenes, but even they didn't reveal everything.

A quote from Silent Running :
And to all the hard working guys and gals at GCHQ Cheltenham and the NSA boffins in Alexandria, VA who work with CARNIVORE to wade through the ECHELON intercepts of all internet traffic, we hope we haven't wasted your time too much, and maybe raised a smile as you read our imaginary plots and thought "Bloody amateurs, they should see some of the genuine stuff that crosses our desks. All their hair would turn white with shock and they wouldn't be able to fall asleep for a week".
I believe it. Thanks, guys, for doing a hard job that will remain unsung for a long time, and yet still managing to preserve the majority of our privacy and freedom of speech.

ST05 : Weekend News Roundup

PM : "Sod Off, Swampy"
The Prime Minister endured a withering attack during Parliamentary question time on Friday, with probing questions about his handling of the "War on Terror" from both sides of the house.

The PM struggled in his answers, and finally let go with this intemperate outburst: "I note that many Honourable Members leading the charge, and calling for my Resignation today for not doing enough are the very same people who voted on Wednesday against the Government for doing far too much. This House, and indeed the Australian People, are both entitled to ask of those Honourable Members whether this is about the War, or just Politics? If you don't have constructive criticism that might actually help us fix any inevitable screwups, then Sod Off, Swampy."

The Prime Minister later withdrew the term "Swampy".

Emotional Scenes in Family Court
Families of those killed and maimed in the University Bombing got a chance today to face the parents of the 21-year old female bomber, whose name still hasn't been released.

The meeting, held at the NSW Family Court building, was called at the behest of the Government, after consultation with Islamic Legal Scholars.

"I'll never forgive them, they and their whole [expletive] culture and religion are rotten, rotten to the core, [expletive] evil bastards and I hate them all." said the father of one victim.

"They lost their daughter, we lost our son" said another. "They're just like us, something happened, she went off the rails, I just don't know." said another parent.

"They said 'Sorry'. Well 'Sorry' won't make my George see again" wept one distraught Mother.

Some families did say that their attitude had changed as the result of the meeting.

"I came here hating their guts. I expected to see some bigotted bastard animals spouting some Islamic Bullshit to excuse themselves. But they were just... normal parents. Look, my brother's kid got drunk and killed two people and himself in a car crash last year. That wasn't my brother's fault, he's the salt of the earth, Sometimes kids get in with the wrong crowd. I dunno, I just miss Jeanie and I'll never see her again. They'll never see their daughter again. I just don't know." said one.

"I'm no bleeding-heart Lefty" said another, "But they really are victims of this thing here. This whole Al Qaeda Death-worship thing... Not victims like us, but victims all the same. This is all such a [expletive] waste..."

One woman was heard to say to her husband "God Help Me, I forgive them. It could have happened to us. Remember when (she) ran off and joined that weirdo cult for six months? It could have happened to anyone. Why?"

"My daughter, the light of my life, has been condemned to the fires of Hell for Eternity" said the father of the suicide bomber. "May Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, let me drink the blood of those who sent her there."

NSW Police Conduct Dawn Raids
A number of houses were raided by Tactical Response Units this morning. Police spokesmen refused to comment about whether they were in connection with the "War on Terror".
"We still have to deal with Ordinary Crims", he said, "Bank Robbers, Drug Dealers. Life goes on."

Sydney Lunchtime Traffic Chaos
An abandoned car caused an area outside Hyde Park to be closed to traffic today. Police suspecting it might be a car bomb, closed a large part of the CBD to traffic for four hours, while an army bomb disposal robot examined it.

No explosives were found.

Siege Drama in Jandaloop
A street in the Perth suburb of Jandaloop has been cordoned off by police. Shots have been fired, and both negotiation and armed response teams have been dispatched.
Neighbours evacuated from the area say that a man whose wife left him recently may be holed up there.

Saturday 23 April 2005

Fun With Containers

From the Oops site, some pictures showing what happens when things go a little bit wrong on the waterfront.

Tipping point

I Flunked Blocks at Kindergarten too

Tipping point reprised

Hat Tip : Keats Telescope

ST05 : From Our Own Correspondent

This is a story about what happens when the dreaded Australian Department of Transportation Security singles you out as a "person of interest".

It happened to me.

The crew and I had been working for several weeks in outback Queensland, on a story about mining methods for the BBC's TV programme, "Panodrama". The Sydney Bombings seemed very far away - as far as Cairo is from London in fact, Australia is a Big Country. We'd heard the reports, seen the films, but it hadn't affected us much. New coveralls for people working with explosives, a pair of rather bored-looking but fully combat-equipped soldiers in a Land Rover near the pyrotechnics hut, some new communications apparatus, that's all.

Periodically, people with explosives qualifications would go absent for a few hours, and come back with fingerprint ink on their hands, but that didn't affect most people.

Like everyone else, we'd heard horror stories about delays of up to 12 hours for air travel. Having to check in luggage 24 hours before departure (and a camera crew has a lot of luggage), spot checks and random searches. So we decided to travel back to Sydney by Bus from Brisbane to catch a flight home.

Bad Move.

The line was moving quite quickly - IDs were checked, a few seconds in the "Magic Box" which had various hush-hush sensors in, and most people boarded without incident.

When it came to my turn, as I exited from the box I heard the dreaded words "Would you please come this way, Sir?"

I knew then I'd miss my bus.

I can't go into details without risking prosecution, but the next few hours were cordial, though strained at first. They asked me if I could account for the explosives residue that had been found on my person. Did I work at a chemical plant. Had I visited a mining or construction site recently, and could I prove it?

Fortunately, my answers satisfied them. But they checked them all, and that took time. I spent much of the intervening period in a hospital gown, reading and watching TV, as my clothes had been taken I knew not where. A soak in a hot tub was provided, but I was warned that I'd have to apply the lotions there and scrub myself thoroughly, head to foot, particularly my hair. It was implied that someone would be watching to make sure I did a thorough job, and if not, I'd be "helped" with the process. At least it let me get the fingerprint ink off my hands.

An interminable time later, my clothing was returned, freshly laundered and dry cleaned, and whiffing very faintly, almost imperceptably, of Primroses. I asked about that.

"You're one in ten thousand, Sir" said my genial captor, who looked like he'd be perfectly at home in a Rugby Second Row. "Are you by any chance a wine buff?"

I modestly replied that as Wine Editor for a local periodical, I did have some small expertise in that area.

"Thought so. You must be good at it. Most people can't detect anything, even after training. It's a chemical marker, so we know where you've been, and that any explosives residue you leave in the immediate area is no cause for alarm. Your very own scent, no two people have quite the same mixture. We tried to get everything off your clothes, and the bath will help get anything out of your hair, but our detectors are very sensitive. It'll go away in time, about the same time as you stop leaving traces of explosives residue about the place."

So I caught the bus for Sydney the next day. After an 18 hour journey, I arrived at Sydney Central terminal. I passed through without delay as soon as they'd verified my identity. "Oh, you're OK sir, you're in the system" said one lass cheerfully. "We know all about you. It's the unknowns we're concerned about."

Back at the Hotel, I unpacked my baggage, which had arrived long before I did. It looked exactly the same as when I'd last seen it, undisturbed, everything in the same place I'd put it when packing.

Except the clothes I'd been wearing at the mine, and only those clothes. They'd been neatly folded and dry-cleaned, and on them there was the feint aroma of Primroses.

ST05 : Country Airstrip Security

Lion Around

Eastern Plains Zoo in country NSW has found a new and imaginative solution to the problem of providing adequate airport security, as required by the new regulations in force since the Auckland Harbour Bridge Attack.

"Trespassers Will Be Eaten" say the signs, and they're not kidding.

The wings of parked aircraft provide a cooling patch of shade for some of the park's many predatory animals, and prides of Lions congregate there on a regular basis.

"It makes pre-flight checks a bit more complicated" said one pilot. "The First item is to check for Lions and get a gamekeeper to shoo any away."

"It does make it a bit less likely we'll get hijacked" he said, "but if they try it, we have other defences too."

The Zoo contains a number of firearms, some of them capable of stopping an elephant - of which there are a number in residence.


Sorry for the cryptic title, but KB891711 is the topic, along with computer security, software quality, and similar matters.

KB891711 is a Microsoft Security Update (so all Mac and Unix users reading this don't have to worry, but will no doubt find this amusing, and may safely engage in much Schadenfreude).

There's a complete discussion on this update over at, but here's the gist of it.

First, "why is this update unlike all the other updates"? Because it installs a process that appears on your task list. If you press CTRL-ALT-DEL on a Windows 98 box, you get a list of all running tasks, that is programs that are doing their thing on your computer at the moment. Try it and see - You might have something like this :

A.E.Brain - Opera

Opera, check, that's my browser. ZoneAlarm and VisualZone are parts of my firewall, Avgcc the anti-virus software and so on. (And if your list doesn't have a Firewall and Anti-Virus Scanner on it, Why not? Get one NOW!) All are things I want running on my machine, all are things I've had to OK, except for this very very VERY suspicious-looking "KB891711", which looks as if it might be a key logger or some other malevolent entity.

Well, I was partly right. It's not a key logger, it's an Icon, Image and Hyperlink examiner. It may or may not be malevolent, but was intended to be beneficial. In other words, it's a typical Microsoft Product.

Microsoft in its wisdom decided that the only way to fix a problem that hackers were starting to exploit was to install this on my machine the last time I got the monthly set of security patches.

Here's why the patch was needed :
eEye Digital Security has discovered a vulnerability in USER32.DLL's handling of Windows animated cursor (.ani) files that will allow a remote attacker to reliably overwrite the stack with arbitrary data and execute arbitrary code.

Because Windows animated cursors can be supplied for use by Internet Explorer, this vulnerability affects any applications that use the Internet Explorer component internally, such as Internet Explorer itself, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Outlook Express, and so on, as well as the Windows shell.

In the case of Internet Explorer, the user's system will be compromised when the user views a website that shows a malformed ANI file referenced via a style sheet in the HTML file. Likewise, a system may be compromised through Outlook and Outlook Express when the user tries to read an HTML e-mail containing a MIME-encoded malformed ANI file and a style sheet referencing the encoded ANI file, invoked using HTML such as < BODY style="CURSOR: url('cid:xxxx')" >. In the case of the Windows shell (explorer.exe), exploitation occurs when the user opens a folder containing a malformed ANI file.

This vulnerability also exists in all obsolete versions of the Windows operating system (Windows 95/98/NT4).
So in summary, if you have Windows of any form from 95 to ME, and you look at the wrong website, or receive the wrong e-mail, or look at the wrong spreadsheet, word document, or powerpoint presentation, you're toast.
To make matters worse, the past few days, there have been a number of reports of large companies that provide shared hosting web servers, who have been compromised and their customers web pages modified to attack visitors using the exploits that this fix blocks. In other words, the hackers are starting to attack users who do not have the fix installed and have found ways to do it on a large scale. There is also a report of one known hacker site using this exploit (MS05-002) to infect visitors with two files, that only the Kaspersky AV is currently detecting.

So it is a real threat now and there is no other way to protect your system short of only allowing viewing in text format and never clicking on a image, icon or hyperlink.
Oh yes, many problems have been reported by people with this patch, especially on older machines. This patch appears to break many non-Microsoft web browsers and other software, at least on some machines. Unfortunately for the consipracy-minded, if also breaks the competing Mirosoft products on those machines too.
Note that this update was issued on 11th Jan 2005 and then revised on 8th March 2005.
It's not known whether there are different versions of this patch, early ones very buggy, later ones not, but if you're having trouble with a Win98 machine recently after updating this patch, try uninstalling it and getting a new version.

Instructions here, in entry 15.

OK, I'll repeat them so you don't have to click on it.
It's a little bit of a ritual but quite easy (just takes a lot of words to explain).

First make up an empty folder to put it into (anywhere, any name, as long as you will be able to find it later).

You then go to this website:
Windows "Coporate" Update

This looks exactly like normal Windows Update but it isn't. You go through the ritual of selecting your system and critical updates. Eventually you will find a long list poked into a fairly small box bottom right of screen.

Scroll down and you will find the number about two thirds of the way down. Put it in the shopping basket and download it. You will need to browse to the empty folder you made previously before it will download.

Once you've done all that come off line and go to the folder you made. You will then find it has made a stack of sub-folders. Just work your way through that lot until you find the file (it's called Windows98-KB891711-ENU.EXE).

I would normally say just double click it and away you go. In this instance it is sensible to heed Dan's warning in #12. (The warning reads as follows - I read in another forum today that in the "Exec Notes or something or other" that it should be installed while running in safe mode. (I haven't been anywhere else yet, so when I run across it again I'll gather more detailed info in case it's required.) - AEB) It certainly won't do any harm to install it from Safe Mode.

You probably know this, but to get to Safe Mode you either hold Ctrl key down while booting or if this doesn't work keep tapping F8 key while booting. From the startup menu that appears select Safe Mode. It will be like normal Windows but with large icons and rotten graphics. Just find the file and double click it. Re-boot afterwards.
Or get a friendly neighbourhood tech geek to to this for you (show them these instructions). He or she is likely to get a buzz out of helping you and another chance to demonstrate to the world their Superior Computer-Fu.

Friday 22 April 2005

ST05 : RAAF Planes Offered to NZ

The Prime Minister announced today that in view of recent events in Auckland, a contingent of RAAF F/A-18A Fighters would be put at the disposal of the NZ government, should they wish to make use of them.

A team of technicians and support staff will also be sent.

The Prime Minister also confirmed the release of all NZ contingents back to their home country, including those of the NZ SAS, whose existence had not been officially confirmed.

The announcent caused some uproar within the press gallery, with criticism for "letting down Australia's defences" coming thick and fast.

The Prime Minister replied "You stand by your mates. They helped us in our time of need, we're just returning the favour."

ST05 : PM Visits Bomb Scene

The Prime Minister, accompanied by a large security entourage, visited Central NSW University today, and briefly spoke with emergency services workers, police and forensic scientists working at the scene.

Earlier, the Prime Minister visited the Avondale Primary School, and reportedly spoke at length with two pupils whose mother had been killed in the bombing.

Photographers were barred from the scene.

Political Commentators have been split on the PM's move, some describing it merely as a "waste of a brilliant Photo-Op", others as "a sickening political stunt and blatant exploitation of victims and orphans".

Thursday 21 April 2005

It Ain't Necessarily So

As the George Gershwin song goes,
It ain't necessarily so
It ain't necessarily so
The t'ings dat yo' li'ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain't necessarily so.
Oddly enough, his first example, David slaying the Giant, Goliath of Gath, isn't particularly unlikely. That someone of gigantic statuture - 6ft 3in would qualify at the time - might be a Phillistine General, and Lord of Gath (then a Phillistine fief), is quire plausible. Based upon the known accuracy of much of the Hebrew Histories, military historians take this story at face value, and more probably true than not. But I digress.

Over at Tim Blair's place, I wrote an extensive comment about Islam. So extensive I've decided it's worth it's own post. Here 'tis.

Quick summary for a background of Islam, leaving potloads out.

  1. There's the Koran (The Direct Word of God, it says so on the label).
  2. There's the hadiths (sort of like the new testament), traditions of what Mohammed(pbuh) is supposed to have said and done.
  3. There's no central structure, it's not even as organised as the Southern Baptist Conference - which ranges from the relatively sane and sensible (who just want to ban Rock'n'Roll and dancing of any kind as "immoral") to the Snake Handlers and Arch-Fundamentalist Flat Earthers.
  1. There are huge arguments over which hadiths are "reliable", and which are bogus. Pick the right subset, you can make Islam into almost anything you want, from BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD to pacifist mysticism. Which one is taught at the local Mosque sometimes changes with every new Imam.
  2. As in the Torah and Bible, there's lots of contradictory and evil stuff in the Koran. There's even a huge branch of Islamic Scholarship that does nothing but figure out which bits are superceded by which other bits.
For example of Torah evil, see
Exodus 21:7-11
Deuteronomy 17:2-5
(A good source for the original in Hebrew and a literal translation is here)

Jews don't go around stoning to death all proven unbelievers, nor selling their daughters, whatever the situation might have been 3000 years ago. No, not even the Ultra-Ultra-Ultra Orthodox "stone anyone travelling by Car on a Saturday" types that infest tiny parts of Israel.

And what about Matthew 10:34-36 ? So much for family values.

I'm not criticising Judaism, nor Christianity. The vast majority of Jews and Christians don't go around killing kids who smart-mouth their parents ( Leviticus 20:9 ). Both Judaism and Christianity are, in the main, sane. Some parts of the Bible/Torah are emphasised, some so totally ignored that few adherents are aware of their existence, or consider that they have any relevance if they know about them.

The tiny minority that take every word absolutely literally (as opposed to the much larger but still minority group who say they do) are usually put in mental hospitals, sometimes before, sometimes after they put the baby in the oven to "cast out demons" etc.

The trouble is, the same can't be said of Islam. There's a sizeable minority, rather than one in a million, it's more like one in a hundred, who go around actually slaughtering the unbelievers, engaging in slavery etc etc. And a much larger proportion who, while never thinking of doing such a thing themselves, can't bring themselves to condemn those barbarities too much, because of what the Koran and Hadiths say.

Should anyone stand up at an execution of an adulteress by stoning in Iran today, and say "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone", the authorities are likely to have them executed too, on some trumped-up charge or other. There's precedent. It's just that some religions have outgrown this stuff, and a long time ago.

What's really sad is that in some ways, Islam has gone backwards. Had anyone dropped in to 14th century Tehran, vs 14th century Rome, it's unlikely they'd predict correctly who the more tolerant of the two would be in 2005.

So for those who say the problem is inherent in Islam, I say the problem is no more inherent there than in Christianity pr Judaism. Of the three, Judaism is historically the best in practice, but the worst in theory. Christianity is the best in theory, but there's little things like the 30 years war (17th century, Catholic vs Protestant, depopulated much of Germany, slaughter and rapine rampant) and Tai-Ping rebellion (19th century Chinese Christian Loony Sect Goes REALLY Nuts, Kills 30-50 million) that argue that until the 20th century, they were the worst.

Then there's the little matter of the Shoah. Most guards at the Death Camps either came from a Christian background, or even considered themselves Christian. The same with Stalin's Gulags. But as Stalinism and Nazism were both rather down against Christianity, I'll leave the "until the 20th century" cavil unchanged.

The trouble with universally condemning Islam is that first you must ignore or be unwilling to see that most Muslims are just people. Like most Arch-Baptist "Rock'n'Roll is Mortal Sin" Hellfire-And-Damnation "Creation Science" types are just people, some of them quite good people. Often more loyal, charitable, hard-working, honourable and honest than those less pious around them. Sometimes just hypocrites.

You and I may think they're terminally wrong, but as they don't go around actually bombing abortion clinics and beating up gays (however much they may remain silent when asked to uniquivocally condemn these activities), you shouldn't be in fear of them. Unless they get in power. Most Muslims are no worse than the "Moral Majority", they have the same vices and the same virtues.

The trouble with defending Islam is that the number of Arch-Baptist "Rock'n'Roll is Mortal Sin" etc etc etc types is small worldwide, and the number who bomb abortion clinics so tiny as to be worth massive media attention.

Most Islamic countries, if they became democracies, would be no worse than they'd be if Anti-Evolutionist Literal-Word-Of-The-Bible-Belter Fundamentalist Christians were in charge, and where the majority of the population agreed wholeheartedly with them. Churchgoing, Godfearing, Closed-Minded and Repressive.

But there are entire countries where Islamic versions of the Homicidal Maniac fringe are numbered in the millions, or where they control the government, or have tremendous political clout. Sometimes all three.

You may now say "And that's supposed to *comfort* me????" Hey, I calls 'em how I sees 'em. It's the way things are.

ST05 : 'Leaked' Documents Fake, says Official

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officially stated that the documents recently published by Channel 8 were forgeries.

"We have no member of the Department named Amanda Huggenkiss", he said, "and certainly not as Deputy Director for Cultural Affairs in Jakarta".

"Similarly, neither Clark Kent nor Albert De Salvo have ever been on our payroll in any capacity whatsoever, let alone Assistant Press Attache and Family Planning Advisor on the dates described. None of the three are members of the Australian Security Intelligence Service."

"All of this is a matter of public record."

"Furthermore, the address of our Jakarta Embassy is 'Jl. H.R. Rasuna Said Kav. C15-16, Kuningan, Jakarta Selatan 12940', not as appears in fine print on the letterhead of all the documents, 'Jl. H.R. Rasuma Said Kev. C15-16, Kuningplan, Jakarta Byatan 12940'"

"Finally, one of the dates on the documents is 'April 1ST', not 'April 1st', the style used on all official correspondence. Another says 'February 29th 2003'."

"2003 was not a leap year." he added.

ST05 : PM's Statement on Defeat of No Confidence Motion

My Fellow Australians, Honourable Members both of the Government and the Loyal Opposition.

Thank you for your support. I especially want to thank those Honourable members of the Opposition who voted against the motion, despite overwhelming political pressure from their party machine.

I also wish to thank those Honourable members who in all conscience could not find it in their hearts to vote against the motion. The fact that Eighty-something percent of Australians disagree with them did not sway them from doing their duty as they saw it, no matter how unpopular, even loathed and reviled, that that may make them at the next election. They showed the courage of their convictions - not that many of them have been convicted (other than for minor breaches of the peace on matters of principle).

In the USA, immediately after the day that will live in Infamy, December the Eighth here in Australia, one terminally misguided US Congresswoman, Republican Representative Jeannette Rankin, had the courage not to vote for a motion stating that the US was in fact at war against Japan. Her country had been attacked most savagely, but her Pacifism remained unshaken, she absolutely refused to recognise that the War existed.

Few would say she showed anything but the most arrant folly, and I cannot disagree with that hypothesis. But I for one say that we need a few arrant Fools like Ms Rankin, and the Honourable members of the Opposition who voted for this motion, to make sure that we do not become what we are fighting against. A few, but not too many - and I'm sure the electorate will thin the herd sufficiently in a few years. For like it or not, and I for one detest the idea, we are at War. War with no quarter.

This motion of No Confidence was not so much a vote about confidence in my Government, it was a vote about our confidence in Australia, confidence in her mores and values, and her ability to fight effectively without descending into barbarism. It was about confidence in our military forces, that the individuals therein would refuse to obey any unlawful order, nor commit acts against International Law. It was about confidence that our police forces would find a new way to work within both the letter and the spirit of the Law at a time when the normal way of doing business would be self-destructive.

And yes, finally, it was about confidence in this Government too, and the appropriateness of the extraordinary measures we've had to adopt.

Too much confidence, over-confidence, and we become arrogant, even tyrannical, with no enormity too outrageous because we think God is on our side. We become indistinguishable from our Enemy.

Too little, and we let Evil prevail because Good men - and women - don't have the confidence to fight against it. We see our own human imperfections magnified, as in a distorting mirror, and thus allow true Evil to prosper unhindered. We would lack moral backbone.

If there's one thing History has shown, it's that Australians have never been short of Courage, no matter what kind. In this vote, we did not fail, no matter which side of the debate we voted for.

I now wish to inform the House about progress in the War we are in.

We have had our setbacks in this War. Four people died because we formerly treated Enemy Combatants as if they were merely Criminals. No longer.

Progress in some areas has neither been as rapid, nor as complete as I would have liked. But this should be obvious, otherwise the NSW and Federal Police forces would have been able to take a well-earned rest by now. I cannot reveal the intricate details of our few minor defeats, lest our Enemy take note and thus take advantage. I can assure the House that the defeats have been few and minor though, and there's ample proof of that for all to see. Had our Enemy been able to do more than act the mischeivous child and set a few quickly-extinguishable fires, or make a few prank calls, he would have done so. He has not, and so far just engages in impotent threat and bluster while running for his life.

But more than counterbalancing these trivial setbacks, for such setbacks are suffered by the Victors in all wars, we have had some very major successes indeed. Our near neighbour to the North endured a far more dangerous attack than the one on ourselves, and from the same Enemy. An attack that could have set the largest Islamic country on Earth against us. This attack has been comprehensively routed, and Australia played its part in that Victory. We were not distracted by what the military calls a "well-planned major diversionary attack" nearer to home.

In this attack, the Enemy has also paid dearly. The Enemy Combatant responsible for the bombing was taken within hours, due to outstanding work by the NSW police. The Enemy ringleader and organiser of the Bushfire network was similarly taken shortly thereafter. He could talk the hind legs off a donkey, but as he's being supplied with plenty of those, his loquacity means that the entire network will be rolled up, and other networks too. More to the point, this diversion gave us ample evidence that there are Enemy Combatants operating in Australia, something we had long suspected but had no proof of.

Many of our successes must remain hidden for now. Again, I cannot reveal the intricate details of them yet, lest our Enemy take note and thus minimise his grievous losses. I can guarantee Historians of a later date will find some fascinating reading in the archives when they're declassified, and our Enemy will realise the magnitude of his folly rather sooner.

I'm sure the House is with me when I say that I'm rather looking forward to that.

Wednesday 20 April 2005

Paper! Getcha Paper!

Academic ones, that is. Computer Science Made Stupid and Incomprehensible.

Here's one.
Recent advances in perfect methodologies and secure communication synchronize in order to achieve the producer-consumer problem. After years of robust research into A* search, we demonstrate the visualization of superblocks. We introduce a novel framework for the study of I/O automata, which we call SumlessGlosser...

Or gather a few co-authors and make one up yourself.

The trouble is, fragments of the stuff that's generated actually say something good, useful, and non-obvious. Other parts have arcane but useful technical terms used wildly out of any sensible context. Anyone who knows the field who looks at one of the generated papers is left with the uncomfortable feeling that it all might make some kind of sense if it was only read once more.

Eisenhower On Iraq Germany

From Winds of Change :
"The success of this occupation can only be judged fifty years from now. If the Germans at that time have a stable, prosperous democracy, then we will have succeeded."

- Dwight Eisenhower, October 1945. Frankfurt, Germany

Actually, I prefer to Nuke them from Orbit

It's the only way to be sure. Hat Tip : Silent Running.

Air Strike
You preferred a weapon with 52% power over speed and 80% range over melee.
You use Air Strikes.

Fighting? Fighting is for idiots! All you have to do is make a quick walkie-talkie call and have the ground ahead of you carpeted with explosive charges. Your enemies will be searching frantically for refuge as you chuckle from afar.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 50% on power
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on range
Link: The What's Your Signature Weapon Test written by inurashii on Ok Cupid

The Price of Freedom

From the Anti-Slavery Portal :
336 Black Sudanese slaves were liberated between 23 March and 14 April through the mediation of the Arab-Dinka Peace Committees at Warawar and Manger Ater, Southern Sudan.
And from a post on the iAbolish anti-Slavery mailing list :
Human rights activists estimate that tens of thousands of black Sudanese are enslaved throughout Sudan. The approximate cost for a slave in Sudan is $35.


Obvious in hindsight I suppose.
"Very ashamed, family was. Left poor Zathras. Hard life, no fun for Zathras. Such is life of Zathras."
Hat Tip : Don M on the sfconsim-L mailing list

ST05 : The Old One-Two : Imaginative Tactics in War on Terror

The NSW Police Association praised the "seamless" co-operation between the Australian Federal and NSW Police services today.

Referring to the recent raid on a Darlinghurst Law Firm, a spokesman said "The one time that crims don't expect a raid is just after they've been raided. All sorts of people come out of the woodwork then."

"We had information that armed suspects may have been in the area. The initial Federal raid relied upon surprise for safety, and grabbed the evidence after successfully infiltrating the place. After a short pause to let any armed suspects come out of hiding, the NSW police sent in a fully equipped Armed Response Unit, with senior police officers leading the charge. The Old One-Two."

"NSW and Federal Police, working in seamless co-operation, will continue to adapt and use imaginative tactics like these in future."

The spokesman refused to elaborate further.

Tuesday 19 April 2005

ST05 : US Website Shows Dramatic Videos : "Put Up Or Shut Up" : PM

A US Website, which for legal reasons cannot be named, has published videos said to be of a Sydney Lawyer doing something which we cannot for legal reasons reveal.

Other videos purport to be of a man accused of being a terrorist responsible for a series of Arson attacks in bushland around Sydney (and who cannot be named) in conference with his Lawyer, and giving instructions the nature of which we also cannot reveal.

A spokesman for the NSW Police stated "As the matters are sub judice, publication of such material within Australia so prejudicial to any criminal defense would be a grave contempt of court. But as it is, we can do nothing about it, we don't have jurisdiction. Darn that pesky Internet."

The Opposition hastily called for a Royal Commission to investigate how this material was released, and whether any criminal acts were committed in gathering it.

Prime Minister Brain then stated officially that the material consisted of declassified extracts of surveillance videos taken of terrorist suspects within the last week. He further stated that the material had been supplied "in the course of a routine query" within the US about the status of the War on Terror in Australia.

"To publish such material within Australia at this time would be an outrage" he said, "and we have taken every step within the law to prevent that from happening."

"The Opposition has accused me of being secretive. Well, in war, sometimes you have to be. But I see no reason why such matters should not be aired publically to the fullest possible extent, within the bounds of National Security, and ensuring a fair trial for anyone accused of committing a criminal offense."

"Being an Enemy Combatant is not, and I must emphasise that, not, a Criminal Offence. Enemy Combatants are not Criminals, they are the Enemy."

The Prime Minister went further, saying "The Opposition has called for a Motion of No Confidence in my Government, as is their right, and some would say their duty. There has been a campaign of scaremongering about my Governments so-called "High Handed" tactics, tactics which it would be an abomination to use in time of Peace."

"I applaud the Australians who are concerned, deeply concerned, about what they see as the worst erosion of Civil Liberties seen since the 50's. Some of the techniques we have had no option other than to use have only been adopted after much soul-searching and with grave misgivings. To violate attorney-client priviledge so egregiously in a criminal matter would rightly cause any Government to fall."

"But since we're to have such a test of Confidence, let's have all the facts that can be revealed, not just a select few. Let the House of Representatives, the People's House, judge my policies. Let the Australian people know just exactly what type of Enemy we're facing, their tactics and their futile attempt to use our criminal justice system as a weapon against us, and let the Australian people call anyone who votes against the Government to account. We're arranging a special showing of the video for Parliamentarians before the debate. They won't be able to say they don't know what we're facing. If the motion passes, every one of them will have to face the voters and defend their actions to them."

When asked when the Prime Minister would "condescend to let the rest of the Australian People see the video" he unctiously stated that the parties concerned were at this moment before a Military Tribunal where their alleged status as Enemy Combatants caught in the act of committing an offensive act against Australia would be adjudicated. "Until this time, they are entitled to the presumption of innocence, and nothing would be done to prejudice any normal Criminal prosecution."

When pressed, he stated that writs of Habeas Corpus had been issued to let the Military take custody of the prisoners from the NSW authorities, as they'd been caught in an act of war.

In closing, the Prime Minister stated that he was seeking a Bipartisan support from the Parliament to continue his current course, or, failing that, the chance to put the matter before the Electorate. "I've been copping the flack for difficult decisions in this war" he said, "If I'm wrong, the soomer I'm out the better. But if not, it's time some other elected officials got off their spotty behinds and did their bit for Australia too. We're at war, so Put Up or Shut Up."

When contacted, former Opposition leader McBattler said the Prime Minister, by revealing the video and Australia's surveillance capabilities, had "Endangered National Security for tawdry political advantage. The Parliament should throw the Bum out."

A written statement given out at the time of the PM's briefing stated "The technology that has been revealed is a matter of public record. It's not new. That we'd be willing to use it this way would be revealed anyway by the transcripts of the tribunal's deliberations."

"Besides which" a spokesman added on condition of anonymity, "they're extracts. We're not revealing everything we know, we want to bag the lot of them."

For Aussie Expats in the USA

Or for those USAians curious about Oz cuisine, I recommend Agape Outback Unlimited for supplies of Minties, Jaffas and Violet Crumbles to remind you of Home.

Sure, the prices are high, but still cheaper than buying it and posting the stuff from Oz.

P.S. They also stock Vegemite. But that's a given.

Hat Tip : ninme.

ST05 : News in Brief

"Brain's Fascist Thuggery" : NSW Independant MP

The Darlinghurst offices of Law firm Haghta, Roo and Ateh were raided today by Australian Federal Police, and a quantity of computer equipment and documentation were taken away. Several arrests were made.

Witnesses state that the raid was apparently carried out after a number of "scruffy looking deadbeats" claiming to be protestors seeking legal assistance entered the offices. These turned out to be plainclothes Federal police, who reportedly prevented the attempted destruction of evidence when the uniformed Federal Police and members of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) arrived a few minutes later.

In a simultaneous move, one of the barristers, Mr S.C.Roo was arrested by the AFP executing an arrest warrant at an undisclosed location.

The Australian Council for Civil Liberties described the covert surveillance techniques that allegedly caught Mr Roo red-handed publishing coded messages from one of his clients on a well-known Jihadi website as a "Dangerous and Disturbing Development which gravely threatens the civil liberties of all Australians". They made no reference to the raid itself.

The NSW Bar Council and NSW Council for Law Reform have as yet made no comment on the raid, but prepared statements are expected to be issued shortly.

NSW Independant MP Daisy Less, member for Bounty, called upon the people of Sydney to take to the streets over "Brain's Fascist Thuggery" which "threatens the very existence of the legal system in this state".

An Opposition spokesman said that "This may be the final straw that tips the balance in tomorrow's Vote of No Confidence."

A spokesman from the PM's department described the Opposition as "having themselves on".

"An Awful lot of Goodwill"

800 members of the UK Parachute Regiment are currently arriving in Darwin on a surprise Goodwill tour, to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of airborne operations in the Far East in the closing days of WW II. Officials have stated that their arrival in Darwin is the result of last-minute changes to the planned itinerary due to the Indonesian State of Emergency.

The Israeli Ambassador was heard to observe that the arrival of 800 fully combat equipped troops as "an awful lot of Goodwill."

New Virus Wreaks Havoc

A new virus has been put on the Highest Alert list of major anti-virus vendors. The new virus, named "Hoaxer-A" takes control of the target computer, turning it into a "zombie". When the infected computer receives a trigger message, it uses Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) to make a number of phonecalls using the synthesised voice payload and telephone numbers specified in the trigger.
Computer users have been warned to download the latest virus signature files from their anti-virus manufacturer to avoid infection.

Legal Outrage has Law Students Take to the Streets

Law students at a number of campusses around the country have staged walkouts from classes as news of the raid on a Sydney Law Firm has broken.

The DNA testing Laboratory complex in the grounds of Sydney University's Veterinary Science Department has reportedly been vandalised, and police are at the scene.

ST05 : News Summary

Tragedy in Western Australia

Australia's commanding lead in the test against the All-Blacks was washed out today, with Australia only requiring 17 runs off 35 overs to win. The series will be declared a draw.

Bushfires Continue in Sydney

A number of Bushfires continue to burn to the North and West of Sydney, despite the cool conditions and significant helicopter waterbombing support. Fire officials state that they appear to have been deliberately lit.

Flights Back to Normal (Sort of)

After a week of chaos and confusion, lost luggage and "racial profiling", normal flights out of Sydney have been restored as of today.

With one major exception - due to the State of Emergency in Indonesia, all flights transiting Indonesian Airspace have been cancelled or re-routed. These account for nearly 40% of all International Flights, including virtually all services to SE Asia, Europe and the UK.

The Check-in process has been streamlined, with many frequent fliers managing to board without delay after their identity has been confirmed by biometric techniques.

The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has stated that all tourists stranded as the result of the new security measures have now been repatriated, with the exception of some Indonesians. These have been granted special permission to remain in Australia during the duration of the Indonesian State of Emergency. In addition, there are an unspecified number of people who the Department has not been able to contact who appear to have deliberately overstayed their visas.

Huge Cost of Compensation Revealed

The Government stated today that the special compensation scheme for passengers stranded by the Sydney Bombings has disbursed an estimated $72.6 Million in accomodation vouchers, airline tickets, and cash payments over this period, and will now be wound up. The estimated cost of the scheme is approximately $87 Million. It has been stated that a substantial proportion of the cost will be spread over the next 5 years, as it consists of non-transferrable discount coupons for future travel to Australia, and is also expected to be offset by increased tax revenues.

"Some of our visitors came for a 2-week holiday, got an extra week here all expenses paid, and vouchers for discounts on a 2-month holiday in the future" said one official. "They didn't seem too displeased at the inconvenience."

"Call it an investment for the future" said a Government spokesman.

Security Force to Guard Upper on Foreign Junket

A small contingent of the ADF and AFP will be sent to Timor Leste to provide additional security for Foreign Minister Upper during his visit, it was announced today.

First Sale of Prepaid Mobile Phones to start in June

Bligh Photographics have announced that supplies of their photo ID equipment to retail communications outlets are starting to trickle through, and that the program will be completed in mid-May. The resumption of prepaid mobile phone sales is scheduled for 1st of June.
The Opposition has demanded an enquiry into the "unconscienably rushed" tender process which gave a "multi-million dollar windfall" to this company.

Arson Suspected in Homebush Bakery Blaze

A Homebush bakery was superficially damaged by a Firebomb attack this morning. Two suspects were arrested on the scene, and are currently assisting police with their enquiries.

Court Adjourned in Uproar

The hearing in the NSW Supreme Court to determine whether Hazee Ibn Waqin is an "Enemy Combatant" was interrupted when a demonstrator managed to enter the Court and set off a smoke bomb. Amidst wild scenes outside, the demonstrator was taken into custody, and in the scuffle to take him to a waiting police van, several police and one demonstrator sustained injuries requiring hospitalisation. Three of the demonstrators were arrested and are expected to appear in Sydney Magistrate's court on a variety of charges.
The hearing was adjourned for the day and an application will be filed to change the venue to a more secure location. Council for the Defence stated that this application would be vigorously opposed.

Arrogant PM Contemptuously Dismisses No Confidence Motion

The Prime Minister declared the Opposition's forthcoming motion of No Confidence to be nothing more than a "tawdry political stunt", and that he had "More important things on my mind at the moment".
When asked whether they were more important than his political career, he cryptically replied "Yes, of course."
Political pundits are still puzzled at the Prime Minister's bizarre remark.
Observers expect the motion to be defeated on party lines.

Monday 18 April 2005

ST05: Status of Terror Suspects Clarified

The Prime Minister's office issued a statement today, clarifying the legal position of the two suspects accused of commiting terrorist acts in Sydney recently.

"The defendant Omar Masri has been determined by a properly constituted court to be an Enemy Combatant conducting operations of a military nature in Wartime, a status which he does not deny. A duly constituted military tribunal reviewing the facts determined that his conduct was undeniably so grave a violation of the norms and customs of war that he had forfeited all rights to be considered a Prisoner of War.

This tribunal's deliberations were monitored by a panel of International Observers, including the Swiss Military Attache, none of whom characterised it other than fair and in accordance with international law.

The tribunal recommended that the Illegal Combatant Omar Masri be placed in close confinement on a military installation pending ceasation of hostilities, or such other disposition as may be deemed appropriate. Until that time he has neither the ordinary rights of a convicted criminal, nor those of an Enemy Prisoner of War.

The defendant Hazee ibn Waqin is currently before the Supreme Court of NSW, where his status as a civilian or Enemy Combatant will be determined. He has been formally charged with Arson and other offences under the Crimes Act. Should he be judged an Enemy Combatant conducting military operations, these charges will be dropped, and he will become an Enemy Prisoner of War.

Until such an adjudication, the defendant Waqin is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and contrary to ill-informed reports has been granted both consular access and legal representation.

Further arrests are expected in due course."

ST05 : Muslim Community in Uproar

Sydney's Muslim community is in an uproar today.

No, not over the recent bombings, supposedly the responsibility of Al Qaeda.

Over some potato chips.

A confidential report leaked from the NSW Police Headquarters, has revealed that the cartons of chips found in the Pondglo Mosque during a fruitless search for a bomb last week were actually Kosher rather than Halal, and supplied by the Matzoh Tov Kosher Bakery of Homebush, NSW.

The Imam of the Pondglo Mosque, Sheikh Rath El Enrol, has vehemently denied the report, describing it as "Lies, Filthy Lies put out by the Government", but the Mosque leadership has been roundly condemned by many of Sydney's more conservative Muslim groups.

The NSW Police Commissioner has refused to comment, or to confirm the authenticity of the report.

Vogon Film Making

The new Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy movie was obviously made by Vogons.

Here's the original dialogue:
"I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"That's the Display Department."
"With a torch."
"The lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But you found the plans, didn't you?"
"Oh yes, they were 'on display' in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the leopard.'"
And here's the new, improved Movie version.
"I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"But you found the plans, didn't you?"
Well, that's certainly more humourous, isn't it?

Along the way, they dispensed with a lot of other non-essentials. Joo Janta 200 Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses. The Guide entry on towels. "Milliways, Disaster Area, the 'B'-Ark, prehistoric Earth and anything else in the later part of the story".

Some reviewers may disagree, but for me, H2G2 was always about the language and the footnotes, not the plot. The crinkly bits on the edges.

Hat Tip : Blithering Bunny

ST05 : PM Rejects "Muslim Tax"

The Prime Minister today denied in the strongest possible terms Opposition allegations that the government plans to impose an additional tax on those of the Islamic faith in order to pay for the additional expenses caused by the recent security measures imposed on Sydney.

"The idea of such a poll tax on those of any faith is completely un-Australian," a visibly angry Prime Minister said.

When pressed to comment about the Jizyah, a poll tax on non-Muslims imposed in Iran and Saudi Arabia, he said "It's our enemies who want Australia to become like that, an antithesis of all we believe in. Not on my expletive watch."

In a surprising and inconsistent twist, the Prime Minister refused to rule out a tax exemption for some Muslims. "Anyone who has been unavoidably discriminated against by these security measures is entitled to some token recompense. We shouldn't apologise for what's neccessary, but we can take some of the sting out of it." he said.

"Frankly, I doubt whether Terrorists pay much in the way of taxes anyway, so a tax break won't benefit them. It might give some degree of restitution to those innocents that they're hiding amongst. We may consider it."

The Prime Minister also refused to rule out the confiscation of assets of anyone found guilty of aiding and abetting terrorists in order to offset the budget blowout.

Observers stated that the Prime Minister was "livid" at the Opposition's allegation, with some going on to say that the stress of the security situation might be beginning to tell on him.

Motors, Morals, South Park and Walking Eagles

The World's Smallest Motor
Although the amount of energy produced is small -- 20 microwatts -- it is quite impressive in relation to the tiny scale of the motor. The whole setup is less than 200 nanometers on a side, or hundreds of times smaller than the width of a human hair. If it could be scaled up to the size of an automobile engine, it would be 100 million times more powerful than a Toyota Camry'’s 225 horsepower V6 engine, the researchers say.
Then you can Build your own South Park Character

The Harvard Moral Sense Quiz :
... is a Web-based study into the nature of moral intuitions.
But be warned, in it Kenny gets killed in a variety of diiferent ways.

Finally, there's an Interview with Ward Churchill, "The worst professor in America" where there's this little gem :
I ask Neconie what his Indian name is. "Just Neconie," he responds. "It's an old Kiowa name. I don't have one like Standing Water, or Leaky Faucet, or anything like that." I ask him what he thinks of Churchill's Indian name, which is "Keezjunnahbeh," meaning "kind-hearted man."

Neconie shrugs. He hadn't heard of it. "But Bay Area Indians, we have our own name for him. We just call him Walking Eagle."

"Why?" I ask.

"Because," says Neconie, gathering up his placards, "a Walking Eagle is so full of s--that it can no longer fly."

Sunday 17 April 2005

ST05 : Canberra Roundup

Sources at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are playing down speculation as to the health of Indonesian President Simoni.

One source, who asked not to be named, confirmed that the last direct communications between the Indonesian President and Prime Minister Brain had been several days ago, with the Indonesian President reportedly engaging in "domestic travel" since then.

The DFAT warning against travel to Indonesia has not as yet been lifted, and it has been officially stated that it will remain in place until things "calm down" and "armed militia no longer besiege the Presidential Palace.", a situation viewed with "great concern".

SimTerror05 : the Insider's View

As in Reality, there's a lot more going on in SimTerror05 than meets the eye.

Various cabinet documents and other communications (to be declassified in 2030 or 2080) are sometimes available on the SimTerror05 mailing list, so you can find out the Why as well as the What.

Other diplomatic communications - and messages to and from the Umpire - will be disclosed after the simulation is over.

To see the scene behind the scene, or to publicise your posts in comments or on your blog, join the SimTerror05 mailing list.

What should Prime Minister Brain do? What has he done wrong so far? What has he done right? Here's a chance to have your say, and possibly change the course of (Simulated) history.

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