Saturday Mar 08, 2008

This Republican Government Supports Torture

In the week just past, the Congress of the United States approved a bill that would ban the practice of "water boarding" as it set guidelines for how the CIA is allowed to interrogate people.

As a show of support for what Congress and the people of the United States of America want, the President of the United States, George Bush, promptly veoted the bill, saying that it would make it harder for the CIA and others to collect information. Or to put it simply, the current President of the United States supports the torture of people in order to get them to speak.

When combatting people, such as terrorists (or bullies) who adopt low standards in order to achieve their outcomes, the challenge is not to sink to their level in order to face them in combat for doing so gives them victory without a punch even being thrown.

Congratulations America, you've got a President who wants to drag your country back to the middle ages.

In November this year, the American people will be asked to vote for which party they want to lead the country. Lets hope that they can choose a party that respects human life and is in concert with what others around the world expect and believe on important issues such as this.

Bush Vetoes Bill Baning Waterboarding

Saturday Jan 26, 2008

Why People Believe Americans Are Stupid

Fresh from trying to get into the APEC, Chaser went to the USA and interviewed random Americans... occassionally there was a glimmer of intelligence but on the whole, it wasn't very convincing.

To be fair, I can imagine there would be parts of Australia (and most likely other "modern" countries (such as England)) where there was a similar level of ignorance of world events, but no other "modern" country goes to the lengths that America does to assert how good it is.


Video clip: Why People Believe Americans Are Stupid.

Thursday Jan 24, 2008

Catches win matches

From longer ago than I can remember, the phrase "catches win matches" became associated with cricket and for a good while, Australia (as a team) was always converting a high percentage of the catches into wickets. In the first innings of the test at Adelaide this year against India, 6 catche were put down.

While they might be in the doldrums at present after being given a hiding in Perth, if they can't get their act together and hold onto the ball when it comes their way, then they're not going to win matches either. Obviously a few lads need to spend more time remembering how to catch the ball!

Wednesday Jan 23, 2008

America, Australia, Creationism

The history of the human race is a topical discussion in many circles, with debates over creationism, intelligent design and evolution.

In comparing notes with some other Australians who had visited the USA recently, it became evident that indeed, creationism is involved. And that more over, that the North American way of life was not the final product.

In thinking this through over dinner, it became clear that whoever did create human life has been evolving their product for some time. Let me explain.

We theorise that human life arose from humble beginnings in the forests of Africa somewhere, giving birth to a primitive society. We might say that around the time of 1AD the first alpha version of human life and society had been deployed throughout Europe and Asia. The corollorary of this is that society in other parts of the world is considered a pre-alpha release.

Our creator knew that this wasn't good enough but was content to let it evolve. Over the next 1400 years, the alpha version of human society slowly but surely evolved into a beta product throughout Europe, involving many wars, diseases and so on. By the 15th centur it became clear that the beta version had undergone significant evolution and was primed to be tested as a new release candidate. Lo and behold, America was founded.

With the discovery of the new world by Christopher Columbus, our creator was given a relatively clean slate through which the first version of modern society could be deployed. During the following 300 to 400 years, North America evolved in version 1.0 of human society. Not bad for a first release but still not quite there.

In the second half of the 18th century, Captain Cook discovered Australia and New Zealand (the latter of which is often referred to as God's own country.) Hidden from the rest of the world for many millenia, again a new slate was laid bare for society to begin again with.

With the chance to start over, our creator set about their work to improve what they'd achieved with America, deploying version 2.0 of human society. The end result is easy to see - when travelling, Australians are for the most part welcome in every port with their good nature and friendliness. The way of life is by and large modern, with a few monolithic stalwarts, and relaxed, with no pressure to be anything specific, except happy.

While this may seem somewhat contraversial, it does fit with observations that while American life is good, it isn't quite right. There are a few things wrong in various places. As we all know, it is often difficult to apply patches to fix specific problems (look at what happened with prohibition!) so it has been left alone, to run its course and slowly evolve through the version 1.x versions. For the most part, Australia seems to have learnt from many of the American misakes (well up until we elected John Howard) and made substantial improvements in the say of life.

This theory can be used to explain the problems with democracy in Iraq quite well. The Americans went into Iraq, expecting to be able to upgrade the beta version of society to their latest 1.x version. However their was insufficient planning and preparation of the upgrade, resulting in a project that is running way over budget and looking a lot like a failure.

For any Americans who don't quite see how this could be possible, my suggestion is simple: spend a year or two living in Australia.

So what about Asia? It would seem that Asia rejected the beta version that was spreading rapidly through Europe and stuck with alpha 2. So too did South America. The greater parts of Africa (and also the indigenous Australians) failed to apply the upgrade that introduced the first alpha version.


P.S. This document is a work in progress, lets say version 0.1, with further refinement in various areas necessary.

Sunday Jan 06, 2008

Umpires and cricket.

Over the preceding 5 days, Australia played India in a cricket match at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) and while Australia won, the best summary I've seen of the 2nd test match is:

Caught Benson, Bowled Bucknor

Who are Benson and Bucknor? The two umpires appointed to adjudicate on decisions throughout the match. The umpires are appointed for the match by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and are from the countries of England and Jamaica respectively.

It is a great shame for any sport when the actions of the umpires and the decisions they make overshadow the talent and endevours of the players on the field. In Australia, football umpires are often lovingly referred to as White maggots. It appears we need to come up with an appropriate term for cricket umpires too.

As is often the case in life, people are prone to speculate about what if. The only conclusion that can be safely drawn, on reflection, is that if any particular decision is/was made is changed then everything that follows must be different. You cannot change individual events in life and expect all the others to be as they were. The joining together of events in space and time is known as the Butterfly Effect, about which a movie was made in 2004. If you haven't seen this movie, I'd recommend making the time to do so. Stop worrying about the past and focus on the present and future.

The teaching of foreign languages

During high school, I studied two very different foreign languages (French and Japanese) and in more recent times, I've been lucky enough to be in the right place and time to make some basic steps in another two very different languages: Czech and Chinese. But rather than compare the languages themselves, I'd like to reflect on how they get taught through looking at how the respective textbooks approach the problem.

The aim of learning French was quite simple: to make it possible for you to go there and speak the language as a tourist in order to achieve simple things - ask where something is, what the time is, how much, etc. Japanese was not taught in this manner but I no longer have those textbooks to examine how it was done (unfortunately the end of highschool was celebrated by some amount of book burning, much to my shame.)

When I look at the textbooks I have today for Czech and Chinese, there is similar disparity, to the point where the Czech textbooks look like they've been written for people who will need to use the language vs the Chinese textbooks that look like they're written for business people. How stark the difference is can be see in the first lesson: in the Chinese textbook, it talks about company names and what country the company comes from vs the Czech textbook is greetings, including how are you. The difference in themes continues into both books - beer/coffee appears in lesson 1 for Czech but lesson 4 for Chinese.

Does the differing approach make much difference? Yes - in a very short span of time (1 lesson), it is possible to learn enough Czech to go to a cafe/restaurant and ask for food/drink. It takes considerably more lessons with the Chinese textbook. And in reflection, the difference feels much like it did when learning French and Japanese. Why does this difference exist? I can't say. Perhaps it is cultural, I can't say, as I don't know enough about the Chinese culture to know the significance of what is taught early on. There are no such problems with Czech - in a country that has some quite excellent beers, learning the Czech word for beer is very important, probably like wine for French.

In closing, I'll mention one other prominent difference between the two textbooks: use of the language you're learning. In the Czech textbook, there's an table at the front that tells you what various words mean in English. In every chapter, those words are used in place of the English words for "Read", "Write", "Listen", etc. The Czech textbook forces you to learn Czech in order to use it and uses it throughout. The Chinese textbook makes no such attempt as even at the end of the book, the word "Sentences" is still there in English at the beginning of the chapter. While I don't recall the approach Japanese textbooks took, from memory the French ones did approach things from the same angle as the Czech one does. One is given to wonder if there is some deeper cultural difference in the way people view Asian languages should be taught vs European languages.

Addendum

I suppose I should add a note here about which method I prefer. Without a doubt, the European approach for teaching language is vastly superior to that I've experienced for Asian languages. Granted there is a new form of writing to learn with Asian languages that can be a steep learning curve, and with Chinese, tones, but then there is verb tenses with the Romantic/Latin/Slavic languages and then the modal twist as well (of which Czech is the worst with 7 cases.)

Friday Dec 21, 2007

Music and video priacy now 'legal' in Antigua

In a strange twist of events where the WTO found in favour of Antigua vs the USA (with respect to online gambling), Antigua has now been given the right to ignore intellectual property and copyright rights owned by the USA. Or to summarise in a moe practical sense: if you're into pirating movies/music and need a safe haven from the MPAA/RIAA, Antigua is now your home.

In reading the findings of this case, it is very hard to not come to the conclusion that two of the three panellists are in the pocket of (or owned by) the USA. If the WTO is supposed to be an international organisation that is impartial, it needs to be able to make substantial findings against anyone - including the USA.

Of course the USA isn't taking this laying down, they're pushing for gambling services to be excluded from its WTO commitments. The word protectionist comes to mind.

References

Thursday Dec 06, 2007

The US credit squeeze and its global impact.

6-12-2008

The credit squeeze in the USA is on the verge of pulling the American economy down into recession and in a bid to avoid this outcome, the Bush Administration is making noises about stepping in to protect mortgage borrowers in the USA from a spike in interest rates. But, you've got to ask yourself, why is this necessary? And what are the long term problems here?

a large number of mortgages in the USA are taken out with a short fixed term that has a low interest rate, after which the rate becomes variable. The problem this creates is that only the initial phase of the mortgage can be afforded by the consumer - when the low interest period ends, repayments go up and affordability of the loan becomes a problem. That this problem has arisen should be sending a very big signal to the finance sector in the USA: this model is flawed and is incredibly dangerous.

So the President stepping in here and protecting consumers from an upswing in interest rate on their mortgage that they won't be able to service, is actually an act of protecting a flawed business model employed by the financial institutions. The action here just pushes the problem out to the future for someone else to deal with. Freezing the current interest level for certain buyers, for a few years does nothing to increase the ability of the consumer to actually service the loan. But with his tax cuts and other irresponsible fiscal policies, this move should come as no surprise.

There's a double whammy here for consumers: their financial institution has given them a loan which they can service during the honeymoon period but cannot after that ends. Amongst the other outcomes, this will negatively impact consumers' credit rating, making future loans more expensive as the interest rate for loans is indexed on credit rating (but that's a completely seperate problem.)

Criticism of Bush's plan isn't limited to folks like myself. Others, such as Pimco's portfolio manager are also criticising the move. An indication of the view that this is a vote buying exercise is Senator Hillary Clinton's jumping on this bandwagon and saying Bush isn't doing enough. If anything it should be comforting that both political parties (and their leaders) seem to be no wiser than the other.

Has the US credit problem impacted Australia? Yes! One of the cheaper non-bank providers of home loans, RAMS, has this year been bought out by a bank as they found themselves in an unfavourable position: they had been buying cheap credit in the USA and with the exchange rate moving against them, their costs went up. Rather than increase the cost of their loans (by increasing the mortgage repayment %) to consumers, they sunk the company.

Update (7/12/2008)

Today I found an excellent article in The Age explaining the situation and how the subprime American loans are affecting people in Australia: When California Quakes, Beaumaris Shudders. I'd recommend this article to everyone who has a home loan today as it walks through in almost layman friendly terms how the problem started and how it is affecting everyone today.

The picture now being painted of this crisis in the USA is becoming progressively worse, with some referring to it as hurricane katrina fro the financial market. What picture does this paint for 2008? Hard to tell. The aforementioned article is predicting a significant slide on Wall Street. But one thing is for sure: the financial markets do not like this move by the current president of the USA.

Wednesday Dec 05, 2007

Kangaroo farts could fight global warming: scientists

With our illustrious Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, signing up to the Kyoto Protocol to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, the focus is now on how to get there. Fresh of the starting block is this story "Kangaroo farts could fight global warming: scientists" from the ABC. How will this turn out? Who knows! Maybe cows will be alergic to the bacteria from kangaroos or it will have some other strange side effect, other than the one intended. But this isn't the only way in which the kangaroo can help fight greenhouse gas emissions.

Using kangaroo meat as an alternative to beef is not new. In October of this year, Greenpace was urging kangaroo consumption as a means to cut back on beef production in light of the contributions of that industry to methane production.

However it isn't smooth sailing to get here. In Australia, there is vigorous dicussion (the picture in that story being a good example of how many Australians feel) about the pro's and con's of "eating skippy" - or rather, eating our national emblem.

But if in harvesting more kangaroos allows us to reduce the number of head of cattle, surely we should "think global and act local"?

Sunday Nov 25, 2007

Does the leader of your country speak fluent Mandarin?

ON the weekend just past, Australia went to the polls to vote for who should form the federal government of our country. The result? Another member of the axis of fools (Blair, Bush, Howard & ...) has fallen by the way, presenting Australia with a new leader - Kevin Rudd.

Amongst the many articles being written about this outcome over the weekend, comes this blog entry - John Howard, Australia and the world. In the final paragraph it mentions something that could significantly change the way in which Australia interacts with Asia: the Primeminister elect of Australia speaks fluent Mandarin.

Of course, this isn't exactly news. In 2004, the ABC presented a profile of Kevin Rudd. How well does our Primeminister elect speak Chinese? There's a sample on youtube here.

What now for the future, hmm?

Wednesday Nov 14, 2007

Popularism Software Engineering

In most other open source communities, whether or not something happens is a reflection of the desire of people to make something happen by spending time on a project. So if it is a good idea, the idea itself leads to change without anything specific needing to happen. If an idea is particularly bad, this will generally be pointed out at some point in discussion, whether this is when the idea is being floated or prior to integration. OpenSolaris has invented a new mechanism for determing whether or not a project gets the thumbs up: voting.

Integration of voting into the formal structure of an open source community is at first the means to formally record the explicit desire of an open source community. This works so long as those eligable to vote do indeed vote. However it introduces a new risk for projects: it requires that the person introducing the project actually be popular enough within the community to attract votes - visibly casting a positive vote for an unpopular person (regardless of the technical merit of a project) may carry social ramifications that voters are unwilling to take on. Thus the software engineering is subject to how popular the principals are and hence this leads to popularism software engineering.

There's another risk associated with this too: if the person proposing a project is perceived as being too popular or that is necessary to be seen to be supportive of said person through positive votes, it becomes increasingly likely that poor positive decisions will be made about what projects are approved. Thankfully OpenSolaris has an ARC (Architectural Review Committee) that is required to review proposals for architectural change (this is the case with nearly all projects) which diminishes the possibility of popularism voting for projects leading to their eventual delivery into the code base.

Sunday Nov 11, 2007

Owning your mailbox

In the USA, the US Postal Service (USPS) has juristiction over your mailbox. Or in other words, nobody but the USPS can place items in your mailbox and because all junk mail is paid for and delivered by the USPS, you cannot refuse to have it placed in your mailbox. Moving to the USA from a country where the industry self regulated itself to avoid annoying customers, this is incredibly infuriating.

A summary of the current state of who allows what can be found here: Current national and international arrangements (from NSW, Australia.) Denmark seems to be leading the way, but will we ever see anything like that in the USA or elsewhere?

A more in depth summary of the problem in the USA can be found at http://www.ecofuture.org/jmusps.html. Two out of three reasons for allowing the USPS to deliver junk mail involve money. Clearly if the USPS needs this type of business to stay alive then there is a serious problem with the business model being used for the USPS as other countries do not seem to have this problem.

One very real problem with the current arrangement in the USA, with respect to bulk mailings, is that the company printing the material receives no feedback with respect to how much of their material goes straight into the rubbish bin and thus they're unable to match the amount of material they print to the amount that actually gets consumed, resulting in lots of waste. But large quantities of anything and everything, accompanied with waste, defines the USA, doesn't it?

Sunday Oct 07, 2007

UPnP daemon for Solaris/IPFilter

Over the last week or so, I've been working on porting a UPnP daemon called miniupnpd to IPFilter. Included in this effort was getting it to work on Solaris. You can download a copy of the source code now from http://coombs.anu.edu.au/~avalon/miniupnpd-20071007.avalon.tar.gz. This .tar.gz file contains a Makefile that is set for building with gcc on Solaris amd64. You will need to have the GNU make available to build it.

Getting it to work with IPFilter

The daemon will add ipnat rules (rdr's) and ipf rules to make sure your traffic gets in and through the system but you must have a head rule similar to this in your ipf.conf so that miniupnpd can add rules to let traffic in:

block in all head miniupnpd

You will also need two ipf rules to allow the multicast traffic in and the replies back out again:

pass in proto udp from any to 239.255.255.250 port = 1900
pass out proto udp from any port = 1900 to any

Patches are in progress to make keep state work with multicast UDP.

Enjoy!

Tuesday Oct 02, 2007

Blade Runner - The Final Cut

For those that wish to catch "The Final Cut" on the big screen, there are a few very limited options. The first is at the New York Film Festival, running from September 28, 2007 to October 14, 2007. It is also being screened in Los Angeles, but details have been much harder to find and confirm. According to this blog posting, the details are:

Starting October 5th, BR will be playing in Los Angeles at:

The Landmark
10850 W Pico Blvd
LA CA 90064

Sunday Sep 30, 2007

Which free un\*x for a database today?

The quest to be the fastest webserver or database server or whatever is no different to any other part of the IT market, with the leader constantly changing, depending on who's where with their current development cycle.

Over at one of the other open source projects that I'm involved with, NetBSD, some of the project members have been doing some testing with MySQL on some "older" SMP machines they have at their disposal.

The first graph shows NetBSD-current (the equivalent of "nevada" or OpenSolaris) against an earlier release of NetBSD, OpenBSD, FreeBSD and Linux.


After seeing the above graph, a few people (including myself) were curious about how NetBSD's performance stacked up against OpenSolaris - afterall, Solaris is \*the\* platform for people running production databases in many environments today. The results are quite surprising but very pleasing to the NetBSD project. (For details of the test and hardware used in the test below, see http://www.netbsd.org/~ober/

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