Wednesday Mar 16, 2011

Moving...

This is the last entry to appear on blogs.sun.com, any further ones will be elsewhere... maybe oracle... or http://rakosnicek.blogspot.com/ (just so long as I can remember that password!)

Thursday Sep 11, 2008

Blog moved....

For various reasons, some of which are spelt out in my knew blog, some of which are not but are implied by it (such as my logins to blogs.sun.com now just not working from my laptop), I think this will be my last blog entry here (for a long while, anyway.) I just can't implicitly support some of the changes that have happened to logins on blogs.sun.com through continued use of it.

So for continued ramblings on work and other matter, see you all at http://rakosnicek.blogspot.com/ (just so long as I can remember that password!)

Monday Aug 11, 2008

First piece of the new USSR falls into place.

For just over 15 years now, the group of nations that sprouted up after the downfall of the USSR and the Soviet empire have been enjoying a period of self determination and relative peace. But recently, things have been changing in Central Europe and its relations with Russia.

In the last 24 hours, we've started reading about a conflict in Georgia, supposedly between rebels in South Ossetia and the Georgian army. Being next to Russia, Russia has stepped in to "help". But who are they helping - Georgia or themselves? It's not clear.


Oil

Russia supplies much of the former Eastern Bloc with oil via the Druzhba pipeline. This includes countries which have become quite good friends with the USA, such as the Czech Republic.

Last month on the xth of July, 2008, the USA signed a treaty with the Czech Republic for the contruction of a radar facility to direct missiles planned for deployment in Poland - ostensibly to protect against rogue states in the middle east from launching attacks at the USA. Something that Russia wasn't particularly fond of.

In the days that followed, oil supplies from Russia dropped, without any official word being give as to why. Whilst the Russians cited technical problems, the proximity of the two events doesn't fool anyone. As if this wasn't enough, towards the end of July, oil supplies dropped further, to 50% of its pre-treaty volume.


So what's that got to do with the price of fish, you might say?

Now the question to ponder, is the conflict in Georgia a result of the fallout of diplomatic relations between the USA and Russia surrounding its radar facility in Poland and the Czech Republic? Will Georgia be just the first brick to fall? With the USA caught up in the middle east mess that it made, there's little it can do to help countries such as Georgia. But hold that thought: if the USA or NATO/EU forces were to enter Georgia, what would they do and who would they be shooting at? Would it be the first time that it was East vs West? How will Russia respond if NATO/EU request that they provide peace keeping troops for South Ossetia and that the Russians withdraw?

While the USA has ferried back 2000 Georgian troops from Iraq, much to the outrage of Russia, claiming that the USA was not helping, it would seem that perhaps this might be the limit to which the USA can do something. The conflicts it has embroiled itself in throughout the Middle East are taxing its military muscle and budget, something that Russia is probably well aware of. So if you were Russia, looking at a collection of rogue states around your border that had abandoned you to become friendly with your once enemy and that once enemy was now looking weak, wouldn't you look to capitalise on the situation?

Whether it is by coincidence or not, on August the 20th, Czech TV plans to present footage of the 1968 Russian invasion. Looking at what is happening in Georgia today, it feels like we're in a time loop...

References:

Saturday Aug 09, 2008

Evil Google vs Evil Microsoft

I suppose a lot of people are starting to ponder and comment on this so let me just join in all those that are...

Google often espouses the motto Do No Harm, giving an impression that it cares about what it does and the world around us. It is, however, a corporate entity, out to make money, just like Microsoft.

In IT circles, Microsoft is the company everyone loves to hate and while in many places you won't never be fired for buying Microsoft, it's just as likely in that same place for people to bitch about Microsoft. Why do we hate Microsoft? Software quality aside, they have employed and gotten away with business practices that many other companies wish they could. They force us to use their products and make it hard for competitors to develop software that can compete on an equal footing with it. Thus they're evil and we all hate them.

Google, on the other hand, doesn't sell software per-se, it sells advertising. In order to make the sale of that advertising relevant, they need to have some clues as to what we might be interested in. No good giving us ads for surfboards if we're in Nevada browsing the web for car engine parts. The more they watch what we do, the more they can learn about us and ideally make the advertising better, right? While this is all done in a somewhat subversive manner at present, through the use of cookies, web bugs, etc, how many people would say "yes" to someone looking over their shoulder while they surfed the 'net, just so that they could hand them better adverts?

Not content with just providing search capabilities, Google has reached out and gotten involved with mapping. Google earth is a great product, letting you zoom around the globe like a bird. Free of advertising, right? Not now. In the beginning there was very little location data. Now when I fire it up, by default it is showing me where motels are, places of interest, etc - advertising. Ugh. Get it off my map! But they haven't stopped here with their mapping - they've taken to the streets in cars and gone about taking photographs everywhere they can. In doing this, they, as a company, have quite clearly crossed the "evilness" line: they've ignored "no tresspassing" and "private" signs and ventured onto private property, without permission.

While some might want to blame individual drivers for going where they shouldn't, ultimately someone higher up the food chain has made a call about where to go and where not to go. From comments being made on the WWW, their stance appears to be "photograph as much as we can get away with." As a business, the way in which Google approaches what they do is starting to sound a lot like Microsoft and rather than play nice with everyone, they're out to exploit whatever and whomever they can.

So while we've all been focussing on how evil Microsoft is and looking to Google (perhaps) to save us from Microsoft, I'm starting to wonder if this is really a good idea. If I was faced with having a choice of free software from Google that came with ads or paying Microsoft for it (without ads), I think I'd have to give the finger to Google and pay Microsoft for it. Whilst Microsoft may have nefarious business practices in order to get their goods to be #1, they don't drive up and down streets invading the privacy of me and everyone else on the planet. The evil of Microsoft stops at the shopfront (or the DVD/CD.) The evil of Google knows no boundaries.

So rather than having one large, evil, mega IT corporation to hate, maybe we now have two of them...

Saturday Jul 26, 2008

Is Qantas on a trajectory for diaster?

On Saturday the 26th of July, 2008, a Qantas plane experienced rapid decompression and was forced to descend to 10,000' before an emergency landing at Manilla. When this was first announced, there was speculation of whether it was a bomb, was it bad maintenance or just metal fatigue. While some comments on the Internet have talked about things being "blow upwards" into the passenger area, that doesn't mesh with the reports I've read. However it was somewhat scary to read that the oxygen masks failed to work as they should...but perhaps, just perhaps, this fits in with later comments...

In Australia, the union that the people who work on the planes belong to was quick to bring up the question of whether or not it was cheap overseas labor that could be blamed. Unfortunately not so. The plane's recent service history points to all work being done at home.

Today another article appeared, mentioning that Qantas has been asked to inspect all of the oxygen bottles on all of its aircraft. The reason why: those very bottles are normally located very close to where the hole appeared on QF30. Oops. Wonder if the bottles were a bit old?

Whilst perusing averald.com, I came across another report that details an incident in February 2007 involving a Qantas plane:

- in summary, Qantas changed its procedures in a manner that introduced a risk that led to a problem, specifically:

  • A recent revision to the company refuelling procedures had extended the time between the required fuel water drain checks. (Safety issue)

Now to me that looks like the type of change you would implement to cut down on your operational (maintainance) costs, correct?

How many other changes has Qantas made, in recent years, that are similar in nature to this that have the potential for introducing a failure that leads to catasrophe? And is the QF30 flight another symptom of this kind of change?

Sounds to me like there are some...direct and possibly embaressing questions that need to be put to Qantas...


Disclaimer: I'm a Qantas frequent flyer and wherever possible attempt to fly on OneWorld flghts...well...maybe that's up for review now... many of those flights are over large expanses of water with no airports anywhere close by...

In a further update to this incident, oxygen bottle fragments have been found suggesting that indeed one of the oxygen bottles did explode, leaving the question how and why.

Sunday Jun 15, 2008

MPAA, Movies and Me.

In a recent proposal to the FCC, the MPAA has signaled its intent to exert greater control over the way in which we interact with its products: movies. Whilst some are crying foul of this, is it really a step in the right or wrong direction?

Consider for a moment that for an adult to attend the movies, in the cinemas, the cost is somewhere between $10 and $20 for a ticket. You end up in a seat that may (or may not) be perfect for watching it (some seats are more equal than others) on the big screen and being able to experience the movie the way it was intended - on the big screen - complete with sound effects, etc. It is my opinion that this is the only venue worth paying such a fee to be entertained by a movie - unless you've got $100,000 to $500,000 to build a dedicated home theatre room (bear in mind you've got to have a room dedicated to do this to do it properly.) That leaves DVDs, often costing $30 to $40 or more, somewhere in the wild. But why do we buy DVDs? To watch a movie at our leisure. I'll add that buying movies is different to buying music because you can enjoy music while you're doing other activities, such as eating, cooking, cleaning, reading, programming, gardenning, etc. Movies you need to make time to watch. This leads me on to the next point.

When we purchase a DVD, we purchase the ability to watch a movie whenever we want, as often as we want. It is my personal experience that most DVDs sit on the shelf or in the cabinet for some large amount of time after we've watched it once or twice before it gets viewed again. I say "most" quite deliberately because there are always some that we watch more than once and when bought for kids, they may be watched many times. But if we are to stop and think about it, do we get our money's worth out of the DVDs we buy? Is the convenience to watch a movie once or twice worth that much? Especially given that today, DVD movies come packed with adverts and banner messages that we must endure to get to the main event - unless we have a device such as Kaleidescape's movie player where we upload movies and can then access them directly (no banners!) - but they're not cheap and have earned the ire of Hollywood.

So convenience is of value to us but now that we have high definition TV content and HDTVs, so is higher quality content. Consider that once a movie is released on DVD, its value to TV stations is diminished and this is the current pattern: cinemas, DVDs then broadcast television. If the last two are reversed and movies are broadcast with high definition content via your cable or satellite broadcaster, then the use of DVRs to store a movie has the potential to make it easy for movie pirates to transfer the content to a DVD (or the Internet) and rob the studios of revenue. Not an attractive thought, for them, so they'd like to disable the DVR recording capability. Good? Bad? Hmmm. If my opportunities to watch a movie are limited to the times at which they're played then yes, it is bad, but if I have video on demand, what's the problem - as long as it is priced reasonably.

And this is the rub. Apple has shown that if you price music at an attractive level, then people have no problems buying it in digital form. We've yet to see that approach for movies and we must consider, what is a movie worth to watch? Does one assume that there will always be more than 1 person watching it thus justifying a price tag of $10 or more to watch it now rather than wait for the DVD or broadcast, free-to-air, tv? But if you wanted to watch it now, wouldn't you just cough up the cash to watch it at the cinemas? (I know that's what I do!)

The downloading of movies from the Internet is attractive for a couple of reasons:

  • price - it is perceived to be free but in all seriousness, one needs to break up the cost of the internet connection and electricity, not to mention the DVD disc it is burnt to (and perhaps your time) and apportion some of that to find the true cost of a downloaded DVD movie. It might not be $10, but it is definately not $0.
  • giving it to the man - it gives the little guy a chance to thumb his nose at the big guy (the movie houses)
  • convenience - quite often the movies in DVD format on the Internet are free of banners and adverts that get in your way of watching the movie, thus the person watching the movie feels like they're watching the movie, rather than being spammed with advertising junk.

Looking at that list, the MPAA and its cohorts should be able to spot something of value: convenience but only if it is priced right.

In May last year, Arstechnica ran a story on Comcast working on a simultaneous movie release service that would cost between $30 and $50 per film. This is an indication of someone not understanding what the price should be but now that we're 1 year on and the MPAA is talking to the FCC about DVR interaction with content for HDTV, maybe it has been slowly cooking in the background. Hmmm. Some of the comments doing the rounds on various websites are that if this model works then it might become a preferential venue to cinemas and lead to more cinemas closing. But if that happened, there would be no opening night, no red carpet and no celebrities in public. Significant? Maybe not, but those things do add a certain buzz to movies being released.

At the price of around $0.99 or so per movie, pay per view kind of makes sense - so long as you can pause it while you answer the door to pay for the pizza or visit the bathroom (or some other high priority interrupt such as your parents Email/Internet isn't working and you're their helpdesk.) If you can't do that, well, what's the point of watching it at home? Now if said movie comes with ads and other junk at the front, I'm not likely to be interested but how much extra would I pay to not have them present? Now that's something to think about. Well, after some quick thinking, anywhere from $1 to $2. So now my somewhat old movie, say Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, is going to cost me $2 or $3 to sit down with my friends or girlfriend or whoever for a couple of hours. In doing so, I've saved the movie house fabrication costs of the DVD, printing costs for the DVD, distribution costs of the DVD and possibly promotion and other bits and pieces. You can see now why it is beneficial for Amazon and TiVO to get together in this market.

The key to all of this is the cost to watch the movie - it has to be priced such that I won't think that maybe I should wait for the DVD or some other avenue. While this might upset a lot of people, if movies came as self-destruct entities (they will play from start to end, once), this probably takes care of a large segment of the market. The care that needs to be taken here is to make sure that consumers understand they're buying a right to view the movie, much like they buy a movie ticket, on one occasion, not that they're buying the movie to own/use. The wrinkle in the plan of only viewing it once is the unpredictable reliability of the system that the consumer is using. At $30-$50, a failure of their system that interrupted play and destroyed their one-time token would cause a lot of complaints. At $3, it becomes less of a concern - so long as the failure rate is very low (lets say under 5%.)

So in pursuing the right to restrict DVR usage with HD content on new releases, I think the MPAA is taking some good steps down the road of a sensible business model - so long as they price it right and properly educate people that they're doing something similar to buying a movie ticket but in their own home. If it is then priced appropriately (learn from Apple!), they might just have a winner...

Thursday Jun 05, 2008

Has Google become too popular?

Tonight, as I'm searching for something very specific on the Internet, Google is being singularly unhelpful. I look at the first page of what it has listed and, in my mind, none of them have anything to do with what it is I'm seeking. For example, I'm looking for something about some posters in Australia, so I click on "pages from Australia" (because I specifically went to "www.google.com.au") and what is the first url returned in my list: www.vandersomething.net. Hosted in and about someone in California. I mean w.t.f?

Another pet peeve of mine is that from time to time, when I do a search, my results are cluttered by "ebay things". Hello google, if I wanted to search for things on auction at ebay, I'd go and visit ebay.

So I'm left wondering, is Google now too successful to continue to be the great search engine it once was (and thus will become more yahoo like over time)? Or did that happen some time ago and that it is only the simple searches that I've been doing since that have hidden this from me?

Thursday May 01, 2008

Recovering postgres data

For a while now I've been toying around with postgres at home and from time to time, I seem to have reliability problems. Those problems do not appear to be postgres's, rather it is likely they are due to the operating system (NetBSD) or hardware (a small & cheap HP box.) Whatever the cause, what I see is postgres refusing to access data because an index file is borked or some other internal meta data file is borked and it refuses to load any data. My data was there but it wouldn't give me access. Grrrr....

With files of a couple of gigabytes in size (yeah, small, I know), it seemed obvious that the data was still there - somewhere. Using some standard tools such as strings and hexdump showed that the data was all there, intact, I just need to work out how to get it out of the files. With some experimentation, I had managed to work out a good amount of how it worked but still ran into a few problems. Then I saw a pointer to another utility, pg_filedump, that worked on the data/index files in postgres. The key to making real progress was looking at the header files for postgres that defined its data file formats. I had, up until this point, been refusing to do this, intent on reverse engineering as much of the data format as I could (this was to make the task challenging - just looking at the source code seemed like cheating.) After finding the header files, I started over and life was a bit easier.

The result has been something of a success. Not being content with the easy sailing, I've left priting out tuple data to what I could make sense of in the binary files. The only important types I haven't been able to decode yet are time, timestamp and date.

There is a bold warning at the top of the man page in this file for a very good reason: if the database has crashed and will not start up, there is no way of knowing what the status of your data really is. In a risk free environment, you would recover data from backups and rebuild the database from that point. This program requires you to make an educated guess about the sanity and correctness of the data that it retrieves: if you want to reuse it. i.e. no dba worth anything would ever use this with production data - that's what backups and application log files are for.

http://coombs.anu.edu.au/~avalon/pg_dumpdata.tgz

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

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"?

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

Friday Sep 28, 2007

USD freefall - where does it end?

Today on the currency exchange markets, the Canadian dollar became worth more than the US dollar, crossing the $1 mark in the afternoon. Is it headed for the heights of the 1970s when 1 Canadian dollar bought $1.07 US dollars? Or will it go even further? The important point to note here is that it's not that the Canadian dollar has become better, rather that the US dollar has become worth less as investors seek to move money elsewhere due to signs of a struggling US economy (weak housing market, low consumer confidence, exports of durable goods trending down.)

The nail in the coffin for crossing this benchmark, this time, was the drop in interest rates by the US Federal Reserve by .5%. Not only was this more than what the market expected (.25%) but it is not expected to be the last drop in interest rates by the US fed.

The casual observer might wander why the dollar has dropped now, rather than in the years earlier as interest rates were low then too. The answer here is because the US economy is struggling to get back on its feet. After the dot-com-bomb and 9-11 related recession, most of the other western economies seem to have recovered and are now moderately prosperous...except in the USA. Of course it doesn't take a genius to notice that this period of depressed US dollar value also coincides with the US government needing to fund its invasion of Iraq, spending billions of dollars that it otherwise wouldn't need to. One can but hope that a change in President will also bring a change in the fortunes of the strength of the US dollar.

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Today